Planet Libertaria

Posts Tagged ‘taxes

B.S. in Wisconsin: Public Employees Shouldn’t be Able to Strike

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What the hell is going on here?  Following the absurd public teacher strike in Wisconsin that’s been going on for a couple of weeks now, another 45,000+ Wisconsin public employees are threatening to join in and bring Wisconsin to a complete halt.

Why are they striking, you ask?  Well, the patently evil Wisconsin governor and state legislature (and, I suppose, the patently evil citizens of Wisconsin who elected them) are attempting to curtail a $3.6 billion biennial budget shortfall by enacting the following:

  1. Public employees must pay 5.8% of their salary toward their retirement pensions, up from 0.0% (police and firefighters are exempt).
  2. Public employees must pay for 12% of their healthcare premiums, instead of the current 6% (police and firefighters are exempt).
  3. Public employees may collectively bargain with the government over wages, but not benefits and work rules.
  4. Wisconsin voters must approve any additional salary raises for public workers that are over the inflation rate.

That’s it.

Now, let’s dissect this.  For starters, I don’t want to hear the following:

1.  Don’t give me that “Those poor teachers” crap.

Considering that this entire mess in Wisconsin began with teachers, I think it’s only fair to start with them.  Everyone always lines up at the drop of a hat to shed a sympathetic tear for the plight of the public educator – the 21st century version of a galley slave.  If even half of what I’m reading about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is true, he’s probably one fancy hat away from being this guy:



Reality check: the average Wisconsin teacher makes $52,644 before benefits.  By itself, that’s pretty damn great; the median family income in the U.S. in 2008 was $52,029.  If you’ve determined that one person making $52,644 is more than one family making $52,029, maybe that’s because a Wisconsin teacher done learnt you good.

In terms of benefits, in Milwaukee the average teacher makes another 74.2 cents in benefits on every dollar they receive in actual salary.   Two particularly surprising items which factor into that figure are: 1) the school district’s contributions for teachers’ health insurance, which is the equivalent of 38.8% of their wages as opposed to the national private-sector workers’ 10.7% average, and 2) teachers currently don’t pay a dime toward the state employee pension plan or the additional teacher’s supplemental pension plan (they automatically receive both).  Hopefully it’s becoming pretty clear that they’re living the sweet life compared to the overwhelming majority of working Americans.

If you’d like some specific examples of what these teachers are pulling down, look no further.

2.  Don’t give me that “Going after public employees is unfair, and anti-union” crap.

First of all, nothing going on in Wisconsin has anything to do with private-sector unions, okay?  This entire fiasco is all about public employee unions.

Now keep in mind that taxpayers pay public workers.  Is being held captive by a denial of service from workers whose salary you are obligated to pay “fair?”  Is it fair to have your children refused education because somebody in the public sector doesn’t want to start playing by the same rules as their counterparts in the private sector?  Would it be more fair for Wisconsin to go utterly bankrupt and have everyone lose?

Besides, in the terms which define collective bargaining there’s no real way for public employees to defend the legitimacy of their strike.  Wisconsin has broken no laws by changing the terms of public employee collective bargaining, and federal courts have repeatedly denied that collective bargaining over employment conditions is something you can petition the government about for redress.  Of course, this isn’t to say that workers can’t strike illegally under the belief that they can force their way – though that’s no guarantee of success.  In the 1980s, some air traffic controllers learned the hard way that they were expendable when their illegal strike caused 11,000 of them to be fired by President Reagan.  Still, replacing every teacher and/or state worker in Wisconsin is probably impossible, and I’m sure the public employee unions are aware of that.

The fact of the matter is that Wisconsin is broke, and it’s time for public employees to share some of the same burdens that their paymasters – the citizens of Wisconsin – have been dealing with.  Reality has nothing to do with being anti-union.

3.  Don’t tell me that public employees should even have the right to collectively bargain, much less strike.

There is not and should not be anything legal about a hostage situation, which is what this ordeal is.

The President of the 97-union South Central Federation of Labor of Wisconsin said,

“Two weeks ago who would have thought there would have been 70,000 people on the Capitol Square demonstrating on behalf of worker rights?” Cavanaugh said. “We have had an awful lot of statements of support from around the country.”


Statements of support from around the country are nice, but utterly meaningless.  Guess who runs Wisconsin?  The duly-elected representatives elected by the people of Wisconsin.  So these union folks can blather on, but the bottom line is they don’t have a leg to stand on.  Not that that’s going to stop them from extorting every Wisconsin taxpayer until the unions get what they want.

But it’s statements like this that really warm my heart to the union “cause” (my emphasis added):

A coordinating committee is being formed to contact European unions with experience conducting general strikes, and to begin educating and organizing unions, students and other groups, said Carl Aniel, labor federation delegate from AFSCME Local 171.

“It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to stop working on a particular moment or day,” Aniel said. “It means that we are preparing so that the decisions are made in a very significantly different way so that it protects the people of Wisconsin.”


Yes, it’s really the interests of the people of Wisconsin you care about, isn’t it?  When 40% of all Wisconsin teachers suddenly (and fraudulently) call in sick and shut down the public school system, I’m sure it’s really about protecting the people of Wisconsin – because after all, what else does a public employee do but serve the public?  I mean, you know, besides what they’re doing right now in Wisconsin, which is extortion (my emphasis added):

Extortion, outwresting, and/or exaction is a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection.


Oh.  I guess it is about “protecting” the people of Wisconsin after all.  Please excuse me, Carl Aniel of AFSCME Local 171, for failing to immediately understand you.

To make matters worse, Democrat legislators have fled the state to avoid voting on the public employee benefit and collective bargaining adjustments; without at least one of them being present, there aren’t enough legislators on hand to legally call a vote on this or anything else.

“We were left with no choice,” Democrat Sen. Jon Erpenbach said [.]


Well, no choice besides doing your job and allowing voters to implement their will via the democratic process.  Other than that, no, I guess there wasn’t a choice.  Plus when you consider that public employees and their unions contribute 20% of the total Democrat campaign contributions in Wisconsin, I suppose maybe that’s sort of a factor.


Libertarians and Your Money

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I’ve mentioned that libertarianism is fundamentally about the principle of self-ownership: I own me, you own you.  Self-ownership also means that I own the fruits of my time and labor, just as you do.  If that sounds like common sense, that we own ourselves and that what we earn is ours, then that’s because it probably is.  In reality, however, our individual self-ownership is routinely violated, typically in the name of the “greater good.”

Wait a minute.  So all this libertarian stuff is just a front for being selfish, self-centered, and greedy?

No.  First of all, when I say “in the name of the ‘greater good,'” that’s exactly what I mean.  Invoking a name, cause, or purpose of any kind doesn’t automatically legitimize what somebody does.  For instance, I could take hostages at The Discovery Channel headquarters and threaten to kill people unless my particular demands were met, and I could do this in the lofty name of saving the planet, but that wouldn’t legitimize my actions.  Another example is that it would not be acceptable for me to come over to your house, reach into your wallet, and take your money without your consent – no matter what justification I might offer.  This behavior wouldn’t be okay even if I really wanted, say, a new car.  Strangely enough, if I elect a congressional representative to take your money and give it to me to buy a new car, we call that Cash for Clunkers and get really excited about it.  Theft by proxy in this way is considered completely appropriate; sure it’s not my money, but I’ll get somebody to take it from you for me.  I’ll vote my way right into your bank account!

That’s simplistic.

Examples that illustrate a broader point typically are.  Still, it’s important to realize that a program like Cash for Clunkers – done in the name of the greater good! – penalized some tax payers to support the consumption of others.  Quite literally, some people’s wealth was confiscated – taken without their consent – in order to pay for the desires of some others.  To a libertarian, this is not acceptable.  Why should anyone, congress included, have a higher claim on my earned wealth?  Or yours?  Or anyone else’s?

That’s ridiculous.  You’re just being selfish.  Obviously there are some things everyone should pay for.

Without getting too deeply into specific programs (this time), my point is to illustrate the ludicrous fallacy that when government “gives,” everybody wins.  Every dime spent by government comes from somebody – namely, the taxpayer – today, tomorrow, next year, next decade, next generation, and so on.  When anyone demands that a need be met by the government – even if it’s a totally legitimate need that a large number of people want to have met – a lot of people are going to be robbed in order to implement any given program.

It’s just those rich people getting soaked.  So what?

Relative to you, me, or anyone else, somebody is always going to be rich.  You’re much richer than the majority of the Earth’s population if you’re reading this, actually.  Does that give the rest of the world the right to zero your savings account, ruin your credit, and generally do whatever the hell they please with your justly acquired property?  If your paycheck is bigger than mine, can I come take some of your stuff?

Dude.  Bill Gates.

You’re completely missing the point.  Just because somebody’s an easy target doesn’t make it more acceptable to take from them.  You can’t justify taking what you want by blaming the victim, no matter who the victim is; just because you want something or even think you need something doesn’t make it permissible to get the government to steal from people in order to implement your desires.

So what’s the plan then, huh?  No taxes for anyone?  Close down everything and eat the poor?

The vast majority of libertarians are minarchists (that’s “minarchist,” not “monarchist”), which means we believe in minimum government – alternatively, the smallest possible government.  For many reasons, when government does something it always does it in such a way as to penalize one group of people in order to theoretically benefit others.  This is just a consequence of how it operates, regardless of which political party happens to be in power.  Still, government has a role in our society.  The important part is to make sure that governmental control and intervention is as small and as local as possible.  The more decisions that are made at the local level, the better.

What’s so great about local government?  You keep harping on “the government.”  What’s the difference?

“The government” is often a reference to the federal government, but it’s also used to describe government as a broad concept.  Context clues are your friend.

The great part about localized government is that it maximizes taxpayer choice and, ultimately, control.  I would argue that the number one problem with our government today is that all kinds of decisions are being made for us in all levels of our personal lives (and at ruinous expense!); the second biggest problem is that these decisions are being made by a group of people in Washington D.C. who are not, contrary to what must be popular belief, some kind of elite geniuses that understand what arbitrary rules and regulations work best in our individual communities.  I would like to direct your attention to the recently-passed health care bill nobody read, yet is nevertheless projected to cost all of us – and I guarantee that this is a low-ball estimate because they always are – over one trillion dollars.  If this number confuses or surprises you, you may be remembering it as the health care program that wasn’t going to cost anything.

Basically, localized control means an enhanced ability to opt-in or op-out of programs, as well as to quickly meet the needs of the community in a direct and customized way.  Less inefficiency, pointless regulation, waste, and political posturing gets in the way the closer to home government is.  Plus there’s something in a little old thing called The Constitution of the United States of America that delineates what the federal government can and can’t do.  You shouldn’t be surprised to note that compulsory health care isn’t in there.

Oh?  What about the part in there about promoting the general welfare?

Welfare in that context doesn’t mean socialized medicine, it means prosperity.  I promise we’ll talk about that another time.

Okay, so back up.  Taxes are bad, federal government is bad, local control is good.  So where do we get the resources to take care of big problems?  I mean, not everything is putting down fresh linoleum at the community center. Like, NASA and stuff.

The really amazing thing about government is that everyone assumes nobody else could possibly do what they do.  It’s absolutely breathtaking to me.  Why in the world couldn’t there be, oh I don’t know, something more efficient and profitable than the tax-subsidized U.S. Postal Service (the USPS is $10 billion in debt as of September)?  Oh, wait.  UPS and FedEx.  How about that.

Whenever you want or need something, even if it’s something small, amuse yourself by asking “Can I take care of this, or do I need a federal program?”

But really, how many of our taxpayer-funded federal programs are just so important that the private sector – or at the very least state and local governments – couldn’t take care of it?  Well, let’s see, shall we?  For instance, we all value education and learning.  That’s a big deal, and we want to encourage it, right?  Okay, so do we need a federal Department of Education?  Has it really done anything useful?  Is the quality of our local education improving because we are forced to hemorrhage untold billions of dollars on this federal department?  The answer is a resounding “No.”  Badly needed innovation and creative approaches to learning have not come from bureaucratizing the school system and imposing inane programs and boilerplate standardization.  Thanks in large part to the Department of Education, every aspect of school is a politicized nightmare.  Frankly, other government programs and policies abound which similarly set out to accomplish a nice-sounding X, but ended up completely mangling A-W – and usually Z, too.  It’s the nature of the beast.  And, of course, I’ll be exploring this recurring theme much more in the future.

Basically, we all have wants and needs; the question is, what is the best way to accomplish them?  Libertarians contend that government is not the best vehicle for achieving virtually anything.  If not for the inherent immorality of taxation, the patently obvious waste and corruption of government, the lack of flexibility, and the stagnation of ingenuity that comes with crippling regulation and inevitable political meddling, maybe the public sector would have more going for it.  The fact is, government usually doesn’t need to provide; it doesn’t have to forcibly take money from people to “give” them things  – complete with routinely counterproductive oversight – that they may not even want.  There can, in fact, be a better way of getting the job done.

Libertarians insist on less government to make sure that you own you, and that means keeping your property in your hands to make your own decisions as much as possible.  Localized government helps to ensure exactly that.  In short, we promise more by insisting on much, much less.

Comments and questions are always welcome.

Written by libertarianews

October 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm