Streetwise Professor

February 18, 2011

The Times They *Are* A Changing.

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 8:08 pm

The spectacle of “sick-out” teachers running amok in Madison, WI is, ironically, sickening and educational.  It also points out a fascinating paradox in progressive “thinking.”  For progressives are both big supporters of public sector unions and expansive government.  How is it possible to square that circle?

For the rationale of unions is that they are needed to protect employees from the opportunistic exploitation by their employers.  With public sector unions, the government is the employer.  So the assertion that public sector unions are essential implies that the government is opportunistic and exploitive, rather than benevolent.

But government benevolence–or something close thereto–lies at the heart of the argument that an expansive state is necessary to protect the weak against the predations of the strong.  So if the government is benevolent, there should be no need for public sector unions.

But we see progressives sing paeans to public sector unions and an expansive government.  A completely contradictory worldview based on a schizo theory of government.

Public sector unions facilitate a conspiracy between public employees and the politicians who “negotiate” with them.  Their effect is almost uniformly malign: they bring a wonderful combination of higher costs and lower performance.  The case is particularly clear with teachers’ unions.  My thesis advisor, a brilliant empirical economist, Sam Peltzman demonstrated this with some excellent papers in the mid-1990s.  He showed that one can date the commencement of declining academic performance in a state quite precisely: the declines in a state began when its teachers became unionized.  The result is robust, and holds for both college-bound and non-college bound students.

I am actually quite encouraged by the protests in Wisconsin.  The protesters are so clueless.  They fail to understand how their antics are just going to turn even more people against them, and intensify the opposition of those who are already unfavorably disposed.  The more they whine about the benefits they are losing, and the “rights” that they are giving up, the more the hoi polloi who are footing the bill will recognize how generous those benefits and rights are.  The suckers who pay will say: “I don’t get that good a deal.  I am looking at a more straitened future.  Why should these people get a better deal than I do?  Especially since the performance doesn’t match the pay?  I was a sucker before, but no more.”

In short, temper tantrums and hissy fits by the privileged only stoke anger against them.  So go for it, boys and girls!

Obama, of course, couldn’t resist butting in.  His operatives and union allies are coordinating and funding protests.  He has come out and criticized Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for attacking unions.

This is all understandable, I guess.  Buffeted by one failure after another, Obama sees an opportunity to rabble rouse–sorry, I meant to write “community organize”–and says: “Hey, THIS is something I can do!”

But again, this is good news.  For being associated with the Insane Clown Posse will only damage Obama further.  And a posse of insane clowns is what it is.  The sight of the Democrat State Senators fleeing the state in order to prevent a vote on a measure that would limit public employee collective bargaining rights is proof enough of that, as is the collection of signs, chants, etc. that the “protesters” have brought to the Capitol.  The New Civility didn’t last long, did it?

Some years ago (’03 or ’04 if memory serves) Texas Dem legislators fled the state to stop a vote on redistricting.  Some wags put pictures of the vote evaders on milk cartons.  Wisconsin is the Dairy State, so it would only be fitting to repeat the feat here.  Amazing, isn’t it, that elected representatives shirk their responsibilities in a democratic/republican system, and at the same time thunder against the governor’s anti-democratic actions?

Like I wrote Monday.  It’s not 1995 any more.  People who think that the same tricks, the same tropes, and the same rhetoric will work in 2011 have failed to recognize that the situation of the country is far different, and the mood of the country definitely is.   The protestors are singing the same old protest songs (the has-been Jesse Jackson parachuted in to (a) get his face on camera, and (b) lead a chorus of “We shall overcome”), not realizing that they are now the establishment and the times are in fact changing, and not in a way that they will like.  The clowns in Madison will keep pushing, because that’s what they do.  The difference this time is that a helluva lot more people are going to push back.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by R, R, R, R, R and others. R said: Prof Pirrong takes on 'clueless' #WIunion protesters in new post: 'The Times They *Are* A Changing' @streetwiseprof […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Streetwise Professor » The Times They *Are* A Changing. -- — February 18, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

  2. I definitely agree the unionization ushers in complacency and hence an inevitable decline in teacher performance. In most states, the annual review process get put on auto pilot mode after 3 years – with senior teachers receiving just one 30 min inspection by an “administrator”. This also puts junior teachers more at risk, and more prone to face blame for a school’s woes. So they in turn have no choice but to become part of the “system”.

    The reason for unionization is perhaps the existence of a two tier system – administrators & teachers. The administrative cadre doesn’t teach, is usually compensated higher and wields the power to cast blame on different teachers for poor performance. This evaluation process is extremely sketchy and ad hoc and is prone to favoritism and is also non transparent. You might have encountered some of this at the U of H. So it is natural for teachers to unionize as a hedge against this ad hoc evaluative system. This is true in companies as well. The annual review process if often times a joke and is very skewed. As a result a lot of folks have gotten laid off during the recession due to no fault of their own. And these people might sympathize with the unions.

    “Fair” review system is very difficult because many establishments – universities, schools, businesses are “natural” states in their own little domain. Naturally the new comers and the more junior people are more at risk and have to put in more effort to “prove” themselves. But universally everyone believes that once they have paid their “dues”, they need a more relaxed work culture – professors get tenure, teachers get more relaxed review processes and folks working for private companies get more bonus and take a large share of “credit”.

    “Especially since the performance doesn’t match the pay?” – this is true universally in corporates and well as government service. I know tons of investment bank MDs that take home a ton of bonus for practically no performance 🙂 And tons of academic faculty who keep writing pointless papers and publish it in their clique. And as is usually the case no one cares about or has the energy to fight out all this – they rather settle for a simplified unionized solution where execs can keep somewhat higher pay checks without showing any leadership and the rank and file can retain job security. LOL.

    For this reason, there might be a ton of people who actually empathize with protestors. This is happening across the globe…Tunisia, Egypt, …why not USA?

    Comment by Surya — February 19, 2011 @ 8:38 am

  3. Ahh well, I guess the govt. is a benevolent employer because it easily lets its employees unionize 😀 That makes the case for expansive govt 😉 That said I loathe the govt. and its unions, and big corporations – despite having worked/working in both. I would rather be that yeoman farmer …. well I heard they get more subsidies than any other sector 😀

    Comment by Surya — February 19, 2011 @ 9:34 am

  4. Surya–come on, man. Not all protests are alike. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain–completely different issues, completely different situation from WI.

    I can see some benefits of unionization, e.g., to protect against wrongful termination, etc. But that just puts you on the other blade of the scissors–that government can be exploitative, incompetent, petty, lazy, etc. I don’t see how progressives can avoid getting cut on one of the two blades.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 19, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

  5. What a bitter, vindictive point of view.

    Comment by anonomyous — February 19, 2011 @ 11:23 pm

  6. While I applaud the esteemed Governor Scott Walker’s righteous stand against the commie schoolteachers, as a Republican and conservative I feel that he didn’t go near enough.

    He should have ordered the National Guard to forcefully disperse those loiters and layabouts – with live ammunition if necessary.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — February 20, 2011 @ 2:27 am

  7. No SOB, the governor is not a Russian.

    Comment by Andrew — February 20, 2011 @ 2:56 am

  8. @S/O. Your attempts at sarcasm often fall a bit flat. Case in point.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 20, 2011 @ 8:53 am

  9. @anonymous. Bitter? Well, I am clinging to my guns. Not my religion, though.

    But you’re quite wrong. Hardly bitter.

    And I’m intrigued. Why would Crocodile Dundee be reading, and taking the time to comment on, what a Texan born in Chicago thinks about protests in Wisconsin?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 20, 2011 @ 8:57 am

  10. Read the (your) US First Amendment

    Comment by anonomyous — February 20, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  11. @anonymous. Oh, I know the First Amendment by heart. I especially like the first phrase: “Congress Shall Pass No Law.”

    And, honestly, WTF does the First Amendment have to do with any of this? Are you suggesting that my post somehow supported denying the right to protest? Or something.

    Uhm, not even close. They can say whatever the hell they want. And I can say whatever the hell I want in return. What could be more First Amendment friendly than that?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 20, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

  12. […] neatly impales himself on the second horn of the progressive dilemma that I wrote about in my Friday post.  Specifically, most of Krugman’s column is a jeremiad against the capture of government by […]

    Pingback by Streetwise Professor » Thanks, Krugman! — February 21, 2011 @ 10:55 am

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