While the economic crisis has already reshaped the lives of generations of Americans, it’s most lasting legacy may be the acceleration in the decline of the shaky and ossified Blue Social Model. Our recent economic troubles forced state and local governments to make tough decisions now that would otherwise have been kicked into the future. Public sector workers are feeling the fear and some are taking steps before the hammer comes down. The New York Times reports that 2011 has seen public-sector workers enter retirement in record numbers:
But increasingly workers fear a permanent shift away from the traditional security of government jobs, and they are making plans to get out now, before salaries and retirement benefits retreat further.“You start to feel like, ‘What will they do next?’ ” said Bob McLinn, 63, a labor union president who left his job with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in March, earlier than he planned, after political leaders pressed to cut benefits and collective bargaining rights for workers.“There’s always been this promise that if you came to work and did your job, at the end there would be your reward — a defined retirement. The idea was you could retire with respect and dignity. But that whole idea has been slashed now, and I felt like, ‘What is the point?’ ” […]Already, the trend is apparent in places where lawmakers have made the clearest calls for decreasing workers’ benefits or increasing their contributions for health care insurance and pension plans. And in the last two years, 41 states have made significant changes to at least one of their retirement plans, the National Conference of State Legislatures found.
Politicians have promised rising wages and big pensions to workers and lots of services at low taxes to voters. The two sets of promises don’t add up; now the bills are coming due and workers rightly fear that politicians from both parties will throw workers under the bus rather than anger voters. Hoping to get out before new and more restrictive rules trap older workers and deprive them of benefits they expected, workers are trying to retire before the rules change.Via Meadia doesn’t think the problem is simply that public employees are overpaid. Many are not, and compared to the Solyndra executives and the Wall Street geniuses who wrecked the financial system while collecting big bonuses, the average teacher, policeman or firefighter is hardly making out like a bandit.The core problem is that public unions are too powerful; they get to act both as traditional trade unions and as powerful electoral blocs who elect the people with whom they negotiate. Given the flaccid character of so many politicians, there is a perverse incentives to give the unions whatever will make them happy and then to kick the fiscal can down the road.Unfortunately the end of the road is where we are, and there are a lot of cans underfoot. Dishonesty and false promises were the stock in trade of politicians for the last generation, and we are where we are. There is enough pain to go around, but it will be impossible for state and local workers to escape their share.