IBJOpinion

MARCUS: The nightmare in my neighborhood

Morton Marcus
March 5, 2011
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Morton Marcus

As I relaxed in my recliner, I pondered the surprise of February: the discovery of the most privileged elite in the United States—state and local government employees. Governors of Indiana and Wisconsin bravely revealed the evil perpetrated by this enormous cell of fiscal terrorists.

In case you missed it, many state and local government employees are unionized. It appears that unions force Americans to become arbitrary and authoritarian. People working in large organizations, banding together to negotiate the conditions under which they labor, destroy the harmony of the universe.

Now the virtuous, pressed into action by the realities of economic conditions, fight back. In response, grubby workers leave their posts as teachers, firefighters, health inspectors, geologists, medical workers and public safety officers to protest against noble efforts to reduce their influence, their pay and their dedication to public service.

A look at the facts will put this gallant charge into perspective. State and local government employees constitute 10.8 percent of all employed people in the nation. However, they receive 12.1 percent of the compensation, excluding capital gains. This gross imbalance also distorts the Indiana economy (10.7 and 11.5 percent, respectively) and is worse in Wisconsin (10.6 percent and 12.4 percent). 

Clearly, any group of workers with incomes in excess of their proportion in the economy are villains. The brave governors of Indiana and Wisconsin crusade for a world where all workers are paid the same (communism) or seek a world where the private sector dominates (fascism). I won’t believe this, but the evidence is before my eyes.

In Indiana, private-sector workers averaged $43,166 in salary in 2008 (the latest year for which data are available). State workers did better, at $45,930, and local government workers averaged an embarrassing $48,046. Why should we pay teachers with master’s degrees more than the sweating toilers flipping burgers?

Destruction of unions has been sought for decades by far-seeing Americans. Our nation strayed in 1935 when the federal Wagner Act allowed workers to join unions, which negotiate working rules as well as pay rates. Now, 76 years later, courageous leaders are mounting the long-awaited attack. Public-sector workers are too strong for the public good.

Yes, we want strong schools, buy why must we pay so much for them? Where is the spirit of public service? Yes, we want good police and fire services, but paying men and women above-average wages and pensions to perform difficult and dangerous jobs goes too far. Yes, we want good public hospitals, but do we need to pay taxes to support them? In fact, why can’t all public services be on a for-fee basis?

That’s the trouble with public services—they are provided free or at a small cost to the users, while the taxpayers get the bill. In this brave new world, let’s reduce taxes and use the model of our efficient and effective private sector: Charge user fees.

Education is the leading example. Let the families of students pay for schooling. Naturally, the poor will not be able to afford the services available to the rich, but if the poor really value education, they will find the money. Public hospitals should be the same. It is most evident that the rich and the poor are different. The rich are rich because they produce value for society while the poor, well, you know all about the poor—sloth.

When we treat all people alike, we defile and discourage our virtuous citizens. What reason does a person have to work if he can’t get a kidney faster than a social parasite? Hasn’t the time arrived to disband the stultifying superstructure of … ?

Do I hear a crying baby? No, it’s the cat on my lap. I’ve fallen asleep and had another of those right-wing nightmares.•

__________

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

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  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

  3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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