Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tough Love for Democrats

After months of the most frantic paddling imaginable, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is still barely above water – and almost as far behind as when the race began.

Some will behold a glass half full; a shift in tide; victory in failure to win control of the Senate.  Others will cry “Foul!”; rant about obscene campaign spending; call upon all good Democrats to fight harder and spend more next time.

None of it will do any good.  As it turns out, a voting majority of Badgers in the recall districts want more of what they got last November – surprises and all.  There is little reason to think this isn’t the case for the state as a whole.
When your boat is up to the gunwales, what’s needed is simple…but not easy.  You take a long, hard look at all your cargo – and then you jettison some of it.  Enough so that a Dale Schultz, say, will jump off his boat, climb on yours, and grab an oar.  If you can win him, you have a fighting chance of winning a few other Republican rowers – maybe enough to pull ahead in the next heat.

Rumor has it the floggings over there have been bad; that the captain and his twin chief mates broach no discord and show no mercy.  Surely you can make room for a few decent fellows who still have some pride left, not to mention the will to pull for something they can believe in.
Ah, but what to jettison?  How about a sacred cow?  Or rather, a cruel pretense: that educators and civil servants have demonstrated anything remotely resembling Solidarity with private-sector blue-collar workers during the past thirty years.  Decade after decade, manufacturer after manufacturer replaced machines that did the work of five men with machines that did the work of twenty – and then a hundred.  Decade after decade, factory after factory moved production to the far East – or went bankrupt trying to compete.  And in more recent years, knowledge-workers made of silicon steadily replaced knowledge-workers made of meat.

Where were the teachers and firemen and snow-plow drivers when all this was happening?  Loading up on those low prices at WalMart.  Smelling skies that were no longer besmirched by foundry exhaust.  Basking in benefit packages that are a distant memory for the working classes who must compete against the Second- and Third-world.  And now public-sector labor expects the guy who lost his job at the paper mill ten years ago to feel sorry for them?
But one cow overboard won’t be enough.  Remember those hot-button “wedge” issues?  Hint: for a wedge to work there must be pressure on both sides.  Stop pushing on one side, and Zingo! the wedge goes away.  Non-negotiable, you say?  Unfortunately, reality has a way of negotiating with people who are “right” about everything.  Last time I checked, Democrats in the Assembly and Senate and Governor’s office weren’t accomplishing diddly-squat for the people of Wisconsin. 

I, for one, want that to Change.

This editorial appeared in abbreviated form in the August 26, 2011 The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) and in full in the August 25, 2011 Oregon Observer (Oregon, Wisconsin)

The Cap Times (Madison, WI)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wish Fulfillment

I am beginning to see a disturbing parallel between the neoclassical economist’s belief in the Law of Substitution…and the political activist’s belief in the sweeping powers of government.

Specifically, the economist knows beyond a shadow of doubt that if demand is strong enough, depletion of one resource won’t matter – the Market will automatically provide a substitute*.  Burned up all your high-EROEI fossil fuel?  Don’t worry!  We HAVE to drive – (it’s not negotiable) – so someone WILL invent/develop/find something else to feed our cars.  After all, it’s not like we started burning coal because we ran out of wood!

Meanwhile the activist is sure that if enough people rise up and demand a thing from their elected officials, government will provide what is wanted.  Jobs?  Green energy?  Walkable neighborhoods?  World peace?  OK, personal choices DO count for something, but government action is what REALLY matters.

Missing in action:  The conviction, “I owe.”  The commitment, “These are my duties to the commonwealth.” The expectation that 300 million ordinary people are capable of citizenship. 

*And not only that, the economist considers it likely that the substitute will be BETTER.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The mood became grim as the dismal recall results percolated into downtown Madison last night.  As the Ed Schultz radio show packed up to leave, the recorded verses of "Solidarity Forever" drifted softly into the air, and a few tired voices joined in.

And yet the absence of Solidarity in Wisconsin is all too evident in the language we most often use to express our material support for one-another - i.e. in how we spend our money.  Our stores overflow, but not with goods made by American workers.  Our real solidarity - teachers and firemen included - lies with cheap labor in China...and with a vast, steadily-increasing workforce of powerful automatic machines.  We tell ourselves the prices are irresistable.  We do not say we do not want to resist them.

As I rode home my mind spun with the pedals.  I believe I may have put my finger on the knot at the center of it all - not just the political turmoil in Wisconsin, but the driving force behind the Growth Imperative.  It is this:

If the consumer has not the will to make common cause with the worker – specifically, the willingness to spend more in acquiring less when such transactions are necessary to ensure that the worker is able to earn sufficient wages to provide for his family – then no other force on Earth can protect labor.  A poverty of self-governance is no foundation for a popularly-elected government to build the onerous restrictions on business and trade that would be needed. 
Is there any delusion so cruel as imagining that reform of democracy – or worse, revolution – could compensate for so basic a failure of brotherhood?  Perhaps yes: the belief that free markets among selfish men might yield a condition of virtue.