Just a few hours after my guest appearance last week on WSAU-AM and FM radio in Wausau to talk about the Wisconsin recall elections, my phone rang.
The man calling was one of the program’s listeners, who said he tracked me down because he had a few questions. We’ll call him Sean. Sean is, it turns out, a victim of class warfare, though he wouldn’t call himself that. And, boy, was he pissed.
Welcome to his world, one of anger, resentment, and a burning desire to be entirely dependent on government. There should be a special place in Hell reserved for the evil-doing liberal politicians who are deliberately fostering and intentionally stimulating such class warfare.
My radio conversation with well-informed and provocative WSAU radio hosts Pat Snyder and Tom King had centered on the Wisconsin economy, state government spending, and the limitations put on collective bargaining for unionized public employees in Governor Walker’s budget bill. The governor’s collective bargaining limits, in particular, had motivated the recall elections.
We also talked on the air about the layoff notices sent recently by the state teachers’ union to 42 of its employees, which is about 40 percent of them. The union’s annual budget of $23.4 million, funded by mandatory union dues automatically deducted from teachers’ salaries statewide, is in jeopardy because teachers now have a choice whether or not to pay dues. Union staffers make an average salary of $95,000 annually, about double what teachers make. The union reportedly expects the number of dues-paying teachers, about 100,000 of them, to shrink by about half.
Snyder called the teachers’ union a “trade union,” and I had responded on-air that “trade” was exactly the right word to use. I mentioned having been raised in a trade union family and favoring private unions in general. But, I said, I favored the Walker limits on collective bargaining for public employees, especially ones like teachers who like to view themselves as professionals.
That comment is what prompted Sean’s telephone call. He wanted to know how could I favor trade unions but not public unions. I said, Sean, you say you’re an electrician, an unusually skilled one. A private employer would value your services and be motivated to pay you enough money to keep you from quitting and getting a job down the street from his competitor. But if he pays you too much, he will have to raise his prices and he’ll go out of business. Then you won’t have a job, and you don’t want that. So there are these limits on both sides built into the union negotiation process. Sean agreed.
But that’s not true for public employee unions, I said. Politicians negotiate these contracts using other peoples’ money – the taxpayers’ money. Government has no competition, so it can always raise “prices” – that is, taxes. And the politicians know if they give the union employees large raises, some of that money will come back to them in the form of campaign contributions. So there is no incentive for either side to limit their demands.
Our conversation went on. Sean said he is 41 years old. It isn’t fair, he said, that his father is getting a lifetime pension from a private employer, while he has only 401(k) money. Look, I said, your 401(k) money belongs to you. Unlike a pension, that money can’t be taken away from you.
Neither can my brother’s pension be taken away from him, he said. It can, I responded. No, he said, it can’t – it’s insured. Right, I said. It’s insured by the federal government, which is operating at a deficit, and so is the federal insurance fund. He wasn’t buying. He wants a lifetime pension guaranteed by the government. Period.
Actually, it’s worse than I thought while Sean and I talked. I knew the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. is operating at a huge deficit, as it takes over the pension obligations of an increasing number of failed private companies. But I didn’t know then the PBGC has some leeway about whether to take over these pension obligations at all, and it doesn’t guarantee to pay these obligations in full – it typically pays about a half or a third of the pension payments originally promised to private workers. But even if I had known all this at the time, Sean probably wouldn’t have been convinced.
Sean is trying to find a “job,” he mentioned repeatedly. He can’t, though, because “big” corporations are sitting on billions of dollars out of greed, rather than hiring people. Why, I said, would they do that? Interest rates are about one percent, and they could make much more money by expanding, I said. Companies, big or otherwise, are in business to make money, not to sit on their profits, if they have any.
And so it went, for about an hour.
I tried saying, look – you have unusual electrical skills. Maybe you can’t find a job because there is no building construction going on, but electricians are always needed. Maybe you could start your own business. Be creative. Think about what people or companies need at least a little bit of in the way of services and supply it to a lot of them.
Oh man, I was thinking. How pathetic. I am totally not getting through to him.
And that, I thought later, is precisely why class warfare is so evil.
The Seans of this world have been brainwashed to believe they are ultimately dependent on the government dole in one form or another – for a guaranteed government entitlement.
Thanks to liberals who buy votes with promises of government largess – remember Obama’s stash? – many see no way to survive without it. They see no other alternative. It’s hopeless.
But there are alternatives. There always are.
Conservatives try to counter the class warfare waged by liberals and their vote-buying with talk of personal responsibility and freedom. These are only code words, though, that do a poor job of communicating the underlying message. They stand for hope. Not “hope and change,” but hope and faith. Faith in ourselves and faith in our country and what it stands for.
“What are you going to do, Sean?” I asked him. Go flip burgers, he said.
Maybe there’s hope for him yet.