Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wisconsin Reflections

I was thinking this week about the fifth chapter of James and how it relates (or fails to relate) to the state employee situation in Wisconsin.

1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[a] 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

I have to first disclose that I am an Oregon State employee, and I completely sympathize with the frustration experienced by these workers. After all, we might find ourselves in the crosshairs next. I have to wonder, though, whether the unions themselves combined with the antiquated structure of state government in general (agency structure essentially unchanged or streamlined for decades) must share a significant degree of responsibility for where we find ourselves today. It's no mystery, for instance, that national demographics are quickly changing; we're quickly aging and domestic birthrates are falling. Immigration is masking the effect, but it's there--if you look.

Are public pensions and state legislators taking this opportunity to stem the flow of dollars and create economically sustainable systems? Governor Scott Walker and his ilk would appear to be trying to do so, except recent revelations cast significant doubt on his motivations for ending collective bargaining. I, for one, doubt whether he has honestly disclosed his true motivation for pursuing these sweeping reforms at this time. Something doesn't feel right, as they say.

As to unions, I must admit longstanding discomfort with unions. With few exceptions, unions seem designed to encourage mediocrity more than promote excellence. Their attitude is, sadly, too often one of entitlement rather than thankfulness. I think it's that attitude and perception that's really keeping more people from jumping on board with the unions in this fight. While we sympathize with the Wisconsin state employees' heart-rending situation, many of us find it difficult to support unions, whose behavior seems questionable and polarizing.

So, in short, I can't recognize many in the Wisconsin situation as blameless. The unions should have proactively addressed this situation much earlier in the process, and the governor seems to be pursuing a shadowy and undisclosed personal agenda. It's time for everyone to come clean and restore honor to state government.

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