Hey Joe...You're Blaming The Wrong Guy

I have a friend who is a high school teacher in Eau Claire, WI. She is very much on the liberal side of things, and is quite upset about the recent events in Wisconsin, as one might imagine given all of that. She linked to this blog from a fellow Eau Claire teacher named Joe on her Facebook page, and my thoughts on the matter were way too much for a comment response. And I realized they might make a good diary entry here, so let’s get to it.

Now I’m not going to bother dissecting things like his typical “Republicans only care about the rich and to hell with everyone else” economic view or his hopes that any Republican Senators in Wisconsin are going to get recalled (which has been nicely broken down here). Obviously, I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, but he’s a liberal and I’m a conservative, so that goes without saying. But I am going to say that to a large degree, I sympathize with the plight of teachers in positions like his and my friend’s. Yes, that’s right, I do sympathize with them. I simply feel they are blaming the wrong people.

One problem that we frequently have in this society is a tendency to over-generalize. Much like liberals group the “rich” people who run businesses and provide goods, services and jobs in the private sector with the “rich” people who inherited or married into their wealth so that they can play their “class envy” political games, some conservatives err in this example by grouping together the small-town teachers with the big-city teachers, or for that matter, grouping most of the teachers with the views of their union as a whole. Personally, I do not believe that my friend is overpaid for the work she does, and I doubt Joe is, either. We note that teachers, bus drivers and the like in cities like Milwaukee and Madison are making ridiculous sums of money, but that’s not the case for their counterparts in cities like Eau Claire. The question is: why?

Let’s start with a statistic: According to this Heritage blog, the U.S. is spending nearly $10,000 per student per year on K-12 education. That’s a hell of a lot of money. While I don’t know the specifics of the Eau Claire education budget, I’d be willing to bet that it is nowhere in the same realm as that.

The question the taxpayers are asking is this: “Where is all that money going?”

The answer, quite simply, is that it is being siphoned off by useless bureaucracies and union leaders at every level: federal, state and large metropolitan areas. This money fills public sector union coffers, which in turn, enriches their political allies, which is why they caterwaul every time someone suggests cutting down the size of government.

That being noted, here’s the dilemma: the local school districts in towns like Eau Claire, or my original hometown of Mankato, MN and the like, aren’t seeing this money, and they are by no means to blame for this. They aren’t the ones on the take, and they feel like they are being lumped in with the people who are the real problem. (In some cases, they aren’t even aware that there are people like them in other areas that make a lot more than they do, i.e. they don’t even know that there is a “real problem”.) On the other hand, it’s perfectly understandable that taxpayers are going to say, “We’re spending $10,000 a head per year on education. Why isn’t that enough?”

The analogy I like to use is that education is like watering a garden. Say the garden is 10 feet from the water spigot, but all we have is a 50-foot hose that has a bunch of holes in it. We turn the water on, and the water leaks out from all the holes in the hose, and hardly anything is coming out from the end we want. In this analogy, the garden is the schools, the spigot is the taxpayer money, and the holey hose is the massive bureaucracy the money has to get through before it gets to the schools. The liberal suggestion to solve this problem is that we need to increase the water pressure; but all this is going to do is cause more water to go through the holes and make the holes bigger. It’s not going to solve the problem, but it will make more money leak out the holes, which is fine with the liberal leaders. (In fact, that’s the whole point.) The conservative solution is that we should replace the hose with something shorter that has fewer (or preferably no) holes in it. This is why getting rid of a large, useless bureaucracy like the Department of Education and giving the money to the states makes sense. It would make the metaphorical hose 20 feet shorter.

Scott Walker doesn’t have that kind of power, however. All he can deal with is the state of Wisconsin, and that’s what he’s doing. He’s simply trying to repair the part of the hose that he’s responsible for.

“So what does that have to do with my collective bargaining rights?” complains the teacher.

The answer is that when unions and politicians put together a system to siphon money their way, they can’t be blatant about it, i.e. they can’t just sign up every government worker to six-figure salaries. That would be really obvious, and people would turn on them quickly. On the other hand, if that person makes close to the same base salary as their private sector counterpart, but pays little for his/her pension, practically nothing for health benefits, and gets to retire on a full pension before he/she turns 60, they really are getting a much sweeter deal, yet it isn’t blatantly obvious to the casual observer.  Then you compound it by putting those health care dollars into a bloated trust fund which costs Wisconsin taxpayers about $68 million per year more than shopping for insurance would (which further enriches the union bosses who administer the fund), and the corruption reaches new depths.

This is why Scott Walker and the Republicans took away collective bargaining “rights” for everything but salary: to make where the money is ending up more transparent. I use the term “rights” in quotation marks, because they actually are not rights; they are privileges that have been abused by union bosses and their political allies for years, and that’s why they are now being revoked. (By the way, did you know that federal workers have no collective bargaining “rights” at all? And guess who took them away? Ronald Reagan? No. Newt Gingrich? Try again. George W. Bush? Bzzzt. It was, in fact, everyone’s favorite arch-conservative – Jimmy Carter – who did that back in 1978.)

The final important facet of this little scheme is that it is a lot easier to hide where the money is going if the pile of money is bigger. That’s why the corruption gets bigger the higher up the food chain you go. This is also why a teacher in a city like Eau Claire wonders what all the fuss is about. The unions want to see as much education money as possible end up in large cities run by their political allies, as this increases their take. That’s why the lion’s share of the money ends up in Milwaukee and Madison, and in turn, not as much gets to smaller cities where the politicians aren’t always as reliable.

So in conclusion, let’s make sure that those of us on the right aren’t demonizing the wrong people. The union bosses, their “bravely bold Sir Robin” political allies and any teacher who decided to put their union before the kids in the classroom are definitely fair game. People like my friend in Eau Claire should not be grouped with them. However, I would also advise Joe in Eau Claire and people like him to realize that there really is a problem (though it isn’t you) and help us solve it.