Walter Mead, one of the shrewdest political commentators on the web, looks at what is happening in Madison, Wisconsin (and elsewhere) and argues that the foundations of what he calls “the blue social model” are crumbling before our eyes. Mead writes:Despite the terrible impression created by irresponsible teachers in Madison fraudulently calling in sick and hauling children down to protests they do not understand, and despite tactics that have further damaged the already poor image of public sector unions, these working people and their families are not wrongdoers or parasites. But they have allowed themselves to be deceived by the false promises of demagogic and irresponsible politicians and they now stand in the way of inevitable, necessary and ultimately benign changes in the way our society works.
The problem is that the way we do government in this country has to change — and it will have to change in ways that put the interests of those who don’t have government jobs ahead of those who do. The number of people employed by government is going to have to shrink; much more work will have to be done by many fewer hands — and many tasks historically done in government bureaucracies by life-tenured employees will be done by private sector workers employed by outside contractors. Nor can government workers enjoy pension plans and health benefits better than those widely available in the private sector; the days of defined benefit pensions for government workers are drawing rapidly to a close.
The Battle of Madison is part of a national struggle over the future of American society. The public sector unions and their allies believe in what I’ve called liberalism 4.0, the twentieth century’s dominant set of progressive ideas. It was the ideology of a society made up of big unions, big corporations and big government. The Big Three car companies, Big Three networks and the Big One phone company (back when AT&T had a legal monopoly on providing telephone service) were held in check by government regulation and union power rather than by free competition.
Technological change, global competition, and the rise of a more dynamic economy have wrecked the old social model, but old institutions, old habits of mind and old interest groups don’t disappear overnight. In many ways, public sector unions and government employees are the last great citadel of the Blue Social Model and what we see in Madison (as well as Ohio and Tennessee) is a way of life fighting for survival in the last ditch. We should not be surprised that the battle is fierce, the tactics ruthless, the polarization intense: this is not just a struggle between interest groups, it is a conflict over basic ideas about how the world does or should work.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.
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