The Problem With Dane Gelds And Why Wisconsin Went Kaboom!

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

– Rudyard Kipling The Jeffersonian


According to Hegel, life is all about the choices we make. In fact, he viewed history as an evolutionary process of decisions made athwart a crisis. Wisconsin has hit just such a crisis. It must decide if it will continue to grow its government beyond its means, or whether the state can reform how employees relate to the government in such a way as to provide for both governance and the continued commonweal of the non-government sector.

Hegel viewed these choices as a dialectical process. A status quo formed a thesis, an alternate, appositional choice formed an antithesis. A crisis then undermined the equilibrium state of the thesis, rendering it untenable as a way forward. However, those who benefitted from the status quo would not go down without an argument, and hence an accommodation called a synthesis resulted which involved whatever emerged still standing when thesis and antithesis collided.

Wisconsin has a thesis. A large, empowered class of state employees has unionized, allied itself with the State Democratic Party and has run the show in Madison, WI for a large number of years. They extracted a significant rent from their political allies in return for which, they left the rest of the state in peace. In essence, the Wisconsonites paid them a Dane Geld which took the form of higher than median salaries, free pension benefits, and health insurance below what private sector workers paid.


The antithesis to this was the more entrepreneurial-minded, smaller government GOP. These people wanted smaller government, lower state taxes, fewer perquisites for state employees, and the attenuation of the Public Employee Union – Big Government, feedback loop of political influence.

When times were good, and the growing cost of this arrangement was not a daunting encumbrance, the GOP’s message did not take hold. The Democrats won, their allies were rewarded. The system ran smoothly.

Yet lately, this equilibrium came unstuck. The demands of these state employees became a significant burden. Then, the economy tanked around them. This left the remainder of the population unable and unwilling to support these state workers in the style they had become accustomed to. Thus, the GOP won control of the Governor’s Mansion and the legislature.

Governor Walker came to office with a mandate to fix the broken Wisconsin State Budget. He immediately set about doing so by releasing his Budget Repair Act and making public employees pay more for their pensions and health insurance. It would also severely curtail the rights of public employees to collectively bargain. Yet the Public Employee Unions have organized against this and are shutting down schools in Madison, WI. They have picketed in front of Governor Walker’s private residence.


To further impede the progress of Governor Walker’s reforms, the Senate Democrats fled to Illinois. Like terrorists hijacking an airliner, they phoned in their demands to CNN. Governor Walker announced he would not be bullied. The Thesis of rent-seekers allied with public officials in bureaucratic feed-back loop has now come-a-cropper with the antithesis of smaller, decentralized government. Wisconsin has become the battleground for what will continue to be a national issue.

President Obama has thrown the weight of Organizing For America behind the state employee unions in Wisconsin. He almost has to. These government employee unions have become a lifeline of money and foot soldiers for Democrats across America. More than anyone else, they are increasingly the face of modern Liberalism. What you believe about the bureaucrat; you believe about the Liberal.

Thus, the GOP grasps the nettle in the crisis and also grabs an opportunity. As former Redstater; Art Chance was fond of posting, the Democrats set up a lot of the governing apparatus, so therefore it furthered their interests regardless of who held office. To hack away at that power structure, even if driven to by dire necessity, is to hack away at the Democratic Party.


The government, even the non-elected government, has grown into an increasingly partisan Democrat machine. If this machinery no longer functions, the battle for the future begins in earnest. It may have been more than rhetoric that made that phrase “Win the Future” crop up repeatedly in the last State of Obama Address. Whoever can provide the services, once efficiently provided by the rotting and corrupt edifices governing our states, in a successful and inexpensive manner; will win.


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