Sunday, January 17, 2016

A commitment to reform government

I'm getting around to reading the June-August 2015 issue of Washington Monthly that my father left behind. I haven't gotten into it very far, but of the three major articles I've read, two are worth talking about.

Stanley Greenberg wrote "The Average Joe's Proviso." Strangely (my term), the two groups of white working-class voters and white unmarried women are not reliable voters of Democrats. I really want to see what charms the GOP holds for these people, since over the last 30 years the GOP has been working against these groups (see: stagnant wage growth). But Greenberg doesn't get into that.

What he does get into is how the fortunes of the Dems will change if they actively court these groups and – what I want to share – what the Dems need to say to these groups. There are two parts of this message.

The first part is promotion of policies that build up the middle class:
[The initiatives] include policies to protect Medicare and Social Security, investments in infrastructure to modernize the country, a cluster of policies to help working families with child care and paid leave, and new efforts to ensure equal pay and family leave for women. Voters embraced these initiatives, and they tested more strongly than a Republican alternative.
You can see some statistics about the fragile position of the middle class here.

But spouting a middle class agenda isn't enough.
What really strengthens and empowers the progressive economic narrative, however, is a commitment to reform politics and government. That may seem ironic or contradictory, since the narrative calls for a period of government activism. But, of course, it does make sense: Why would you expect government to act on behalf of the ordinary citizen when it is clearly dominated by special interests? Why would you expect people who are financially on the edge, earning flat or falling wages and paying a fair amount of taxes and fees, not to be upset about tax money being wasted or channeled to individuals and corporations vastly more wealthy and powerful than themselves?
When gov't reform is coupled with policies for the middle class the candidates who push that combination are rewarded with much higher poll numbers.

That's why Bernie Sanders is essentially tied with Hillary. Bernie wasn't mentioned in this article (a photo of Hillary is at the top of the story), perhaps by the time he was growing in the polls this issue had already gone to print.

The second article is "Scott Walker's Real Legacy" by Donald Kettl. Walker is the governor of Wisconsin who busted the teachers union back in 2011 and whose bid for prez. ended shortly after this article was published. Kettl takes a look at Walker's actions as governor and what that would mean for a Walker presidency. Kettl is quite rational and thorough in his takedown.

Why did Walker bust the union? One reason he gave is based on fairness:
We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots.
I think he found this definition of fairness in a GOP dictionary. Teachers are among the haves? Ask the teachers in Detroit who are staging sickouts over low pay and deplorable working conditions (thanks to 7 years of state appointed Emergency Managers). Ask teachers of most suburban schools how much they pay out of their own pocket for their materials. Even in rich communities the teachers are on the lower rungs of the income ladder. Corporate leaders are among the have-nots? These are citizens who could foot the bills and are not.

This sounds like the usual GOP trick of convincing one poor group that their cake crumbs have been taken by this other poor group while obscuring that the rich have already swiped the whole cake.

Kettl also goes through and refutes Walker's other reasons for busting the union. There is no correlation between union strength and student achievement. Or union strength and state budget deficits. Unions don't drive up salaries – government employees are actually paid less than private sector employees and that gap increases with the amount of education (and teachers are well educated). Other states closed big deficits through negotiation, not union busting. Though the state saved $3 billion, teachers took that much less spending power into their communities. While unions may protect poor performing teachers, after busting the union Walker has done little to get rid of bad teachers.

Kettl says Walker could have achieved all his stated goals through negotiation instead of union busting.

So what is the real reason for busting the union? Back in 1998 the control of the Wisconsin Senate appeared to come down to one district. The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the state's chamber of commerce pumped a lot of money into the GOP candidate. The Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the major public employee union, ran its own issue ads, to the point the Dem candidate felt like a "bit player" in his own campaign. But he won – or more accurately, the WEAC won. It and the WMC fought proxy battles in the state's big issues. That is until Walker busted the WEAC.

If Walker had gotten further in the nominating process he could have included this in his speeches (summarized by Kett1):
The problem with government, he can say, is not just that it is too big, holds back private-sector growth, and robs us of our freedoms—the standard Republican view, which he tirelessly proclaims—but that it has been captured by its own employees, who run it for their own benefit, not the public’s.
But the government doesn't have too many workers, it actually has too few. Back in 1960 about 1.8 million federal workers managed a budget of about $0.6 trillion (2009 dollars). Since then the size of the population has more than doubled, the size of the budget has more than quadrupled, and the size of the federal workforce has been essentially flat. Today about 2 million workers manage a budget of about $3.4 trillion.

In 55 years did federal employees improve efficiency tha much? No, the management of all that money has been outsourced. That has lead to conflicts of interest and program breakdowns (remember the disastrous launch of It also means a profit for the management company has to be included in the cost of running gov't services.

Want to reduce the gov't deficits? Bring all that budget management back in house.

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