Krugman’s New Fight Song: “On Wisconsin”

There are a number of college fight songs that have become memorable — and copied — throughout the country. There is “Cheer, Cheer, for Old Notre Dame,” “Hail to the Victors” (University of Michigan), “Tiger Rag” (Clemson and LSU), and even from my old alma mater, Tennessee, the infamous “Rocky Top.”

(“Down the Field” was our fight song when I first came to UT in 1971, but “Rocky Top” continued to move into the picture, and now it dominates any UT football or basketball game. At least I can play it on my violin, although not easily in the key that the band uses.)

From what I can tell, Paul Krugman has decided to pushOn Wisconsin” for his fight song today, and I cannot say I am surprised that he took on the cause of public employee unions. Once one takes on the viewpoint that all (or almost all) government spending is “good for the economy,” then what is not to like about government unions?

At one level, this is something that was inevitable, and we have to separate the politics from the larger picture. First, Krugman is correct when he writes that this is not just about cutting spending. The Wisconsin state union leaders have agreed to engage (at least in principle) to engage in negotiation.

Second, ironically, Krugman is correct when he writes the following, but not in the way that he might think:

Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.

So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You see, Krugman is painting false picture here, a caricature that began during the Progressive Era and continues to the present time. According to Krugman, we have the Big, Bad Oligarchs on one side and then the poor, downtrodden workers on the other.

By unionizing, these poor workers are able to have a fair say in what is happening to them, so any attempt to weaken the power of unions really is nothing more than an attempt to bring back the Bad, Old Days. There is a problem with Krugman’s analysis, however, a big problem.

First, we can see what has happened to those private industries in this country that have had powerful unions, from steel to autos. The only truly competitive industries in those areas today are non-union, such as the various Japanese auto firms that have built facilities in this country.

Now, Krugman would have you to believe that the workers at the various Nissan, Toyota, and BMW plants here are starving, working for mere pennies because they are not organized. Tell that to the employees who are doing just fine. Furthermore, they have jobs, as they have not forced their employers out of business, as has the UAW, which helped drive General Motors into bankruptcy, with American taxpayers being the ones now propping up this bankrupt monstrosity.

Second, we are dealing with another animal, that being government unions. There is a huge difference that Krugman fails to point out, and that is that public employee unions are allied with politicians (mostly Democrats), creating what essentially is a soviet in which the government employees provide enough clout to make sure that their chosen paymasters are elected.

The only problem for them is that the unions cannot extract good pay and benefits from themselves, so they have to go after the people who actually produce something in the real economy. What we have is an arrangement in which the unions elect the politicians who then strip others who are not part of the arrangement of their possessions to give to the unions.

This arrangement works as long as those being fleeced are able to do so and don’t gain enough political power themselves to break up this soviet at the ballot box. However, this past year, despite record spending from labor unions to prop up the Democrats, they lost big in the elections and now are taking their big stand.

With the Obama administration taking an active role in organizing and supporting the protests, we can see where lines are being drawn. But there is even more, something more insidious that Krugman ignores but that I cannot and will not ignore.

The Obama administration has aggressively prosecuted and imprisoned doctors whom prosecutors claim write prescriptions that “have no medical purpose.” However, at the rallies at the Wisconsin Capitol, doctors (yes, real-live M.D.s) have been handing out fake “sick” excuses to teachers in order to make their unauthorized absences be made to look as though they were away from work for a legitimate reason.

This, people, is fraud, and literally a federal crime. So, we have doctors on camera committing felonies — and that is what they are are — to be seen by federal authorities, and I will bet that nothing — nothing — will be done. In other words, Obama and his supporters (including Krugman, of course) will support felonious behavior for political reasons.

Krugman may claim that these are poor, downtrodden workers trying to stand up against the Oligarchs, but in reality, what we have been seeing are people who are able to use coercion in order to create pay and benefits for themselves that are not available to others — the others who have to pay for these arrangements.

Moreover, many public employees have real power over the rest of us, and anyone who has dealt with unionized state and federal bureaucrats can attest to the abuse that they heap on others, and the fact that they are not accountable for that abuse. Let us be honest here, people. Paul Krugman is endorsing what in effect has been a gravy train for those people privileged to be tied to the politicians who have wielded power.

Now that the arrangements are different, the same “public servants” who enjoy pushing others around now are trying to tell us that they are nothing more than poor, oppressed workers toiling for pennies a day. And the fact that Krugman is willing to shill for this tells us a lot about the guy.

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About William L. Anderson 48 Articles

Affiliation: Frostburg State University

William L. Anderson is an author and an associate professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland. He is also an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as well as for the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.

Anderson was formerly a professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina.

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