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Week in Review

Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin boldly underlined many of the trends we’ve been tracking here at Via Media for a long while now: the writing is on the wall for many blue institutions, which have grown increasingly unpopular and have proven to be unsustainable as the financial crisis has ground on.

Walker’s victory dealt a severe blow to public sector unions, but the symbolism of his success is broader: the institutional left, whose base is by and large blue to the bone, is repeatedly being blindsided by the changes the country is going through.

The left gave this fight everything it had. It called all the troops it could find; it raised all the money it could; it summoned the passion of its grassroots supporters, all the moral weight and momentum remaining to the American labor movement and every ounce of its strength and its will.

And it failed.

The tribes of the left danced and rallied in the streets of Madison. They knocked on doors. They staffed phone banks. They passed fliers. They organized on social media. They picketed. They sang. They brought in the celebrities and the stars; they marched seven times around the city blowing the trumpets and beating the drums. They hurled invective; they booed; they cheered.

And they failed.

The storm clouds are gathering. Union membership has been dramatically in decline for the past 12 months across the country. And perhaps even more ominously for the future of the pro-labor left, Mayor Tom Barrett’s lead among 18-29 year olds was halved by Walker’s bid to stay in power.

This dynamic doesn’t map neatly onto partisan politics, however—it’s a question of good governance rather than a simple Democrat versus Republican affair. In bluer-than-blue New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking on the public sector unions with the help and support of private sector unions. In Rhode Island, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has been taking a hatchet to future pension obligations. And the people of San Jose and San Diego voted to curb pension costs by overwhelming margins. The problems are real and they are being addressed. But the sad reality is this: If you’ve been assured by your politicians—Republican or Democrat—that your promised government pension is safe, be very wary.

Other story lines we followed:

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  • Buce

    Walter, do you count it as “good governance” to give police and fire a bye on the grounds that money spent on them somehow does not impact the budget (perhaps particularly ironic when you consider how much local police get from TSA and drug confiscations). And do you savor the irony that Cuomo is getting support from the one group of unions (= the building trades) who gain more than any other from taxpayer money? And are you comfortable with a system that lets Walker outspend his opponents by a factor of ten to one?

  • thibaud

    “it’s a question of good governance rather than a simple Democrat versus Republican affair”

    The international perspective is crucial here.

    Is Holland a “blue” nation? Is Canada “blue”?

    So why is it that these heavily interventionist nations have pension fund solvency or funding ratios that are nearly twice or even three times as those in Illinois or Rhode Island?

    Could it be that you don’t need to destroy the safety net in order to have well-managed pensions and fiscally-prudent, good government?

    Long past time we got out of our cocoon and started to look closely at our thriving cousins to the north and in northern Europe.

  • ahem

    Mr. Meade: In your earlier Syria post, I suggested that the recent massacre of innocent civilians might be the work of Assad’s radical Islamist foes. Behold, I was correct:

  • Luke Lea

    What, no China coverage this week? Shame on you. The best book on China I discovered the past seven days is almost a century and a half old! A British intelligence officer named Meadows put his finger on the strengths and weaknesses of Chinese society in ways that seem uncannily accurate today. It’s short. Read it and see if you agree:

  • Luke Lea

    Here’s a better link for the Meadows book on China. If you are in a hurry I would start with Note XI:

  • Luke Lea

    Complementing Meadows, here’s a great excerpt from Petter Hessler’s first book on China:

  • Luke Lea

    An even better quote from Hessler on the lack of a strong sense of community in China:

  • thibaud

    More on the fiscal situation in those deep blue nations that, in the eyes of the TPers, are spending themselves into bankruptcy:

    Government Debt as a % of GDP, 2012 forecast
    Source: OECD

    Canada 84%
    Holland 81%
    Germany 88%
    Sweden 48%
    USA 108%

    Remember that old Sesame Street teachable-moment jingle, “One of these things / Is not like the others…/ One of these things / Just doesn’t belong… ” ?

    Why is it that the one nation without universal health insurance, the one with the weakest safety net, is also the one with – by far – the highest debt-to-GDP ratio?

  • Lorenz Gude

    @thibaud 2 I have an international perspective having lived in Australia for about half my 3 score and 10. From here, a lot of America’s problems are simply badly run government not to mention badly run corporations. Micro example: In South Florida, where my son lives, I count 5 different kinds of police cars – various city, state and sheriff’s jurisdictions -on a 20 minute stretch of I95. In Western Australia, there is one police department. Macro example: The US spends 18% of GDP on medicine and does not cover everyone. Australia spends 9% and supports both universal health care and an opt in private system. Those governors: Republican and Democratic are only beginning to fight the waste. Christie, a Republican, has done it with the help of Democratically controlled legislature! This is doable and just beginning. Walker won most of all because his reforms are already working. We need a reform movement in both parties to check each other’s excesses and maximize the development of effective reforms.

  • SteveMG

    “Government Debt as a % of GDP, 2012 forecast”

    I think you’re missing the point and the concern.

    Via Media has focused on state public pension unfunding and debt burdens not federal debt. The number you cite is about US federal government debt as a percentage of GDP (and also doesn’t include the tens of trillions of unfunded obligations that Washington has).

    The concern is about exorbitant state pensions and the drain they are placing on other programs.

  • thibaud

    @ Lorenz – ” a lot of America’s problems are simply badly run government not to mention badly run corporations”

    Agreed. This blog’s obsessive emphasis on public sector unions blinds us to the reality that many US corporations have atrocious governance, and that regulatory capture is at least as big a problem for the US economy as over-generous pensions.

    The distortions and drag on the economy created by bad US corporate governance get very little coverage generally, but all you have to do is compare US corporates and their well-governed German counterparts to see the malign impact on US employment levels and economic stability.

    “The US spends 18% of GDP on medicine and does not cover everyone. Australia spends 9% and supports both universal health care and an opt in private system. ”

    Funny how the Tea Party nutters can’t seem to understand that our pseudo-free market kludge is vastly more INEFFICIENT than a public option or universal health care+
    private health insurance arrangement of the sort that all of our peers have. Black is white, up is down, etc.

  • Luke Lea

    thibaud makes excellent points re the blue model. Mend it don’t end it.

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