The Wisconsin Recall: Some Notes on Democratic Theory
Published on: June 8, 2012
show comments
  • Nathaniel C. Tarnoviski

    Mr. Garfinkle,

    I really appreciated this scholarly examination of the Wisconsin recall and the status of the modern day union and its role in democracy. I think your stressed dichotomy of unions (as trade versus public sector) as not monolithic, is important as the rights of public sector and private sector unions have led to conflated rhetoric by both the right and left.

    While I agree, partially, with your view on outside funding, I wonder if the main plight of democratic theory is the nature of the recall itself? Surely, a public official should be able to serve out his term as mandated by an electoral victory, not withstanding corruption or some type of misconduct. Essentially, I wanted to see if you had any opinion on whether the nature of this specific recall undermined the democratic process of electing one’s officials?

    Thank you.

  • GC

    You say you “…would like now to take the commentary a bit deeper…” and then you accuse those who do not support higher taxes
    of being “selfish”.
    Higher taxes will lead to higher spending and spending higher than taxes results in deficits which increase the national debt and increase the interest payments on the debt which increase the deficit etc. etc.
    Do you understand?
    Or is your “selfish” merely the new “racist”?

  • Dick Rivera

    Thank you for a thoughtful point of view. I take issue with your characterization of those who resist higher taxes – some may be selfish, but I suspect most are skeptical of the elcted official’s ability to resist new progtrams and actually deal with the deficit, absent turning poff the revenue “spigot”.
    As a private, individual “outsider” I contributed financially to the Wisconsin debate because I felt the issues being discussed had national implications, the unions had extraordinary leverage, for all the reasons you mention, and the people of Wisconsin deserved to hear from both sides. We are relying on their judgement, it seemed to make sense to make sure they were allowed to hear from both parties.

    Lastly, public sector unions make no sense; trade unions will stage a comeback when their “product” is perceived to have value by a workforce that is free to choose whether they should join.

  • Daniel

    You seem to be very young because your ideas seem very naive to me.
    You have to realize that it is generally wrong to attribute specific motivations to human actions. Most decisions are of a threshold kind; when several positive motivations come together people act.
    All of us must eat and must obtain the wherewithal to do so. Everyone, whether in government non-profit or private industry has that need as a part of his or her motivations. Most of us also have self respect, and want very much to consider us good people who show gratitude for our existence, and we try to do so.

    I don’t know Grover Norquist but I am sure that he believes that taxes act as a brake on our economy, and raising taxes when the economy is in trouble is like putting on a brake when you are moving too slowly; a terrible idea. True enough the man has to eat and make a living, but so do you. You sound foolish when you claim you know his sole motivation is greed. I sincerely doubt that he is any greedier than you are.
    It does seem to be true that politicians always spend somewhat more than the money available to spend; rarely if ever less. So raising tax collections does usually lead to increased spending.
    And you are naive about the origin of trade unions in this country. It was not mainly for protection of workers against rapacious employers. (If so, where did all those rapacious employers go while union membership in private industry has continuously declined?) A much stronger motivation was protection of jobs against other potential employees. Many locals were from a single ethnic group, Irish, or Polish or whatever; their aim was in part to reserve jobs for their group.
    And who were the enemy of the unions? They were the “scabs”. And who were they?
    Why scabs were the unemployed who wanted to take the jobs of striking workers!
    The potential enemies of groups of employed workers were unemployed would be workers, not the people giving them jobs. Who for example was responsible for the discrimination against Chinese and Japanese in California in the Eighteen Eighties? why the labor leaders who wanted to keep out competition from frugal, highly competent and motivated immigrants.

    The real trouble with unions has been that their successes are short term, and in the long term seem to self destruct. If they succeed in making pay and benefits for their members far above of most people, they often make their employers non-competitive and even worse for themselves, promote the invention of labor saving approaches that make it possible to get by with many fewer of them.
    Government workers used to accept low pay for job security. Now they try, with the help of corrupt politicians, to have higher pay better pensions, more favorable health insurance than most citizens, as well as job security, and sooner or later the citizens rebel, and will cut them down to size.
    You must realize that the aristocracy of previous ages consisted of government officials. And these did not end well for them.
    Your notion that people from other states should not contribute to local campaigns is utterly anti-democratic. Why not? Surely the Wisconsin situation has relevance across the country. All voices should be heard, and the more the merrier.
    In fact the unruly behavior of union supporters is what led to the governor’s impressive victory, not any outside money.
    Notice that more than half of the union members have stopped paying union dues now that they have the ability to do so, since the state has stopped taking the dues from their paychecks and giving it to the unions.
    This is one of the main things the union leaders have been upset about.
    So the freedom of union members to not pay dues is evil that the unions have fought against. Are you also against such freedom?

  • Walter Sobchak

    You have confused the trades unions (Gompers – the old AFL) with the industrial unions (Reuther – CIO).

    The former will exist naturally where there are skilled trades whose practitioners are not permanently employed by third parties to provide financial security to their members. The issue they create is attempts to exclude their employers (most often temporary as in the building trades) from dealing with non-members.

    The later are a political creation that derives its impetus from Marxism. They attempt to turn the employees of a single enterprise into an entity and to combine them with the employees of their employers competitors, and to make them into political armies that would cement the domination of the democrat party.

    The industrial union model could only succeed in a world where the US had no economic competition. The world of the 1950s and 60s. Since the rebirth of international competition, the industrial unions have destroyed their industries as surely as Yersinia pestis.

    The government employee unions are a parody of the industrial unions. They are as parasitic as the industrial unions, but their hosts are disciplined by the market. They must be destroyed lest they do our government, what the industrial unions have done to their industries.

  • Anthony

    Democratic theory and traditional practice get to heart of conundrum vis-a-vis public unions and fiscal policies/priorities of various governments. The principle that public employees are public servants has been lost in traditional practice – the commonweal plays second fiddle to the interests (self-serving/parochial). Democratic theory comes up short when practice is premised on natural proclivity towards self-serving.

    Question of our time (for this issue) is how to modify influences in complex governing system (constitutional democracy); answer lies with the social arrangements of men – establishing priorities in the interest of commonweal sans (where possible) partisanship.

  • phwest

    I disagree with the local funding point on two grounds. First, it is clearly desirable for representatives and senators to form networks of mutual support, where they increase their ability to serve their constituants interests by acting in support of others on issues that do not directly benefit them. Why prohibit constituants from acting directly on their own behalf? Second, for state governments, where that point is moot, consider that many individuals own property in states other than the one in which they reside (indeed individuals are legally barred from claiming the right to vote in more than one state), or work in a different state, or at a minimum own shares in a business that operates outside their state of residence. Only a small fraction of the population live and work in the same voting district all the way down to the local ward or town level. Why restrict citizens for contributing time or money in an election that they have a strong interest in simply because they don’t happen to live there?

    International contributions are critically different in that nations compete in critical ways (military, trade) that state and local governemnts are consitutionally barred from. Foreign contributions carry with them the likelihood of being contrary to the interests of the actual voters to a much greater extent than interstate contributions.

  • Mahon

    It may be true that the decline of private sector unionism accounts for some share of the measured increase in inequality between the middle class and the rich. However, the effect of giving unions greater bargaining power would probably be to improve the relative position of some segment of the middle class at the expense, not of the rich, but of the lower-middle and lower classes. If a company has to pay more per worker, it will hire fewer workers (by buying more capital equipment and shifting to lower quantity, higher margin products), and the well-being of the marginal worker will decline. It is this kind of “partnership” between management and a unionized worker elite that ultimately led to the wreck of Detroit.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.