Karl Marx classified people according to their relationship to the means of production. That was, perhaps, a plausible approach in the 19th century. Nowadays, however, it makes more sense to classify people according to their relationship to the trillions of dollars that flow from the productive private sector to the parasitic public sector. One could argue, with a great deal more force than Marx was able to muster, that 21st century America has a ruling class. It consists of those who direct and profit from the trillions of dollars that our government, at its various levels, extracts from working Americans. The footsoldiers of today’s ruling class are the public employees who command ever-increasing salaries and benefits and who, through their unions, provide much of the money and many of the votes that keep our ruling class in power.
Why, exactly, do we have public employee unions? In most states, I believe they have only been legal since the 1960s or 1970s. One can argue that legalization of public sector unions has done more to deform our domestic politics than anything else that has happened during the past 50 years. I, for one, favor legislation returning public employee unions to the illegal status they have enjoyed through most of our history.
In the Wall Street Journal, Governor Tim Pawlenty argues that the moral case for unions does not apply to public employment:
The majority of union members today no longer work in construction, manufacturing or “strong back” jobs. They work for government, which, thanks to President Obama, has become the only booming “industry” left in our economy. Since January 2008 the private sector has lost nearly eight million jobs while local, state and federal governments added 590,000.
Federal employees receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector. And across the country, at every level of government, the pattern is the same: Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt.
How did this happen? Very quietly. The rise of government unions has been like a silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions.
Public employee unions contribute mightily to the campaigns of liberal politicians ($91 million in the midterm elections alone) who vote to increase government pay and workers. As more government employees join the unions and pay dues, the union bosses pour ever more money and energy into liberal campaigns. The result is that certain states are now approaching default. Decades of overpromising and fiscal malpractice by state and local officials have created unfunded public employee benefit liabilities of more than $3 trillion.
Please do read it all. The conflict between private sector and public sector workers promises to be the principal battleground of our politics during the next decade.