Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Common sense is desperately needed
in public sector employment

Making the rounds through email a few months ago was something called the “Profound Paragraph,” attributed to the late Dr. Adrian Rogers, who was a Southern Baptist minister and president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Profound Paragraph was part of a sermon Dr. Rogers delivered in 1984.

It is comprised of five statements: “You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend is the beginning of the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”

So simple; so logical. Unfortunately, we have not just failed to observe these truisms, we have strayed so far from them that we are approaching the beginning of the end of America, as Dr. Rogers describes it in the fourth statement.

We are to the point where nearly half of US workers – 47 percent – paid no federal income tax in 2009 according to the Tax Policy Center. The National Taxpayers Union reports that the top 50 percent of taxpayers paid more than 97 percent of federal income taxes in 2008.

In 2009 there were 37.2 million food stamp recipients, 4.1 million on welfare and 9.1 million receiving unemployment support. In 2010 Medicare rolls had 47.3 million people, and 58 million were on Medicaid.

When you add up all those numbers you come up with 155.7 million, a number that likely overstates how many people actually receive some sort of federal assistance, because some people receive more than one type of assistance. Still, that total is 50.2 percent of the 310.2 million people living in the U.S. last year, and that gives us some idea of how close we are to Dr. Rogers’ scenario.

His Profound Paragraph is a common sense refutation of the idea of redistributing wealth to make everyone more financially equal, and evidence shows convincingly that he is correct; it doesn’t work. But that doesn’t stop the redistributionist statists from trying to defy reality, and that causes enormous problems.

Paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, politicians who take from Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul. Taking from one group to give to another is the main ingredient in contemporary politics, and that is what’s behind the situation in several states, notably Wisconsin, where over the years greedy politicians traded their state’s future economic security for votes in the next election by giving favors to their constituents, in this case public sector workers who belong to unions.

And now when the bills for this traitorous behavior have put the state near insolvency, public employees have taken to the streets in protest of the governor’s efforts to restore fiscal responsibility.

Wisconsin’s public employees have a sweetheart deal where they pay nothing toward their own pensions and only six percent of their health insurance premiums, a much better deal than most private sector employees have. Gov. Scott Walker advocates limiting public workers’ collective bargaining to wages only, have them pay 5.8 percent of their pension costs, and 12 percent of their health insurance premiums, still a pretty good deal, compared to private sector employees.

Municipal, county, state and federal government workers should not work for slave wages or in bad conditions, of course, but that is not the case. The employees in Wisconsin and in the federal government have better pay and benefits on average than many or most of the people they serve, the ones whose taxes pay their salaries. If fairness is the issue, what’s fair about that? Why should taxpayers fund all or most of the health insurance and pension plans of public employees?

Public employee benefits and work rules are the issue here, not their pay. Gov. Walker believes that in order to protect taxpayers from the rising costs of one-sided union contracts, work rules and benefits would have to be approved by voters. What a concept: Public employee’s fringe benefits would have to be approved by their bosses!

The truth is that in the federal government and many state governments public employees quite often have superior circumstances to their private sector counterparts, and because of the incestuous relationship between vote-seeking politicians and self-serving union leaders, public employee unions crossed the border between acquiring fair wages, benefits and work conditions for their members, and began seeking excessive and costly conditions that are economically destructive and indefensible. That has to end.

Whether or not public employees have a right to collective bargaining is a good subject for discussion, but even if they have such a right, it has been abused, and when you abuse either a right or a privilege, you are apt to lose it.

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