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Friday, February 18, 2011

Public employee Ann Althouse

I've always found it an interesting wrinkle that five of the top conservative/libertarian law prof bloggers are public employees: Glenn Reynolds,  Ann AlthouseEugene Volokh, Stephen Bainbridge, and Larry Ribstein.  I would imagine this status would create some ripples between one's ideological beliefs and personal economic interests.  Back when the UC system had furloughs in 2009, here was Professor Bainbridge's reaction:

They call it a furlough, but at least as far as faculty are concerned, that's a complete misrepresentation. We are not allowed to cancel any classes . . . .  Nobody's said anything about reducing committee and other service obligations. Likewise, nobody's said anything about reduced research expectations. So where exactly is my furlough time off? . . . . I'm not much of one for strikes and protests. And I think I have an obligation to my students to show up for class as scheduled. But I also won't blame those who participate [in the protest]. It's enough to make one a raging populist.

Ann Althouse has been fairly critical of the Wisconsin protests, based on the language and tone of some of the signs, as well as the conduct of the protesters.  But she also has some interesting thoughts on the conflict between the personal and political:

It really is odd that Wisconsin became ground zero, because we didn't have the budget disaster that was going on conspicuously in some of the other states. I'm really trying to understand this. Why Wisconsin? A distinctive thing about us is how good our public employees' benefits are. The cut we — I'm one of them — are being asked to take is severe. (I'm looking at a loss of more than $10,000 a year, myself.) But it's hard to complain and appear sympathetic, because we're only being asked to go from paying 0.2% of the payments into our pension fund to 5.8%, which probably looks astoundingly low to outsiders. We're being asked to pay more for our health insurance, but the coverage is extremely good, and the annual hit will be about $2,500.

So maybe we public employees in Wisconsin are a great target — a great starting place for what is a national movement by the Republicans. I'm trying to understand the party politics. Tell me if this is correct: There are vast numbers of public employees, who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Once elected, the Democrats create more and more public jobs with greater and greater benefits, and, consequently, more voters who are even more locked into voting for Democrats. This is a cycle that approaches political graft, and the Republicans, to win, must overcome all those passionate, self-interested Democratic voters. Why wouldn't the Republicans embrace a strategy hostile to the public employees? Why wouldn't they drive a wedge between the public employees and all the other citizens in the state?

So I see 3 questions: 1. Is this what the Republicans are really doing? 2. How good a political strategy is it? and 3. Is it a good idea to reduce the political and economic power of public employees? 

The 3 questions are interrelated, but they should contemplated separately... but who is capable of doing that? I'm trying to be fair, and it's possible that I'm in as good a position as anybody. I voted for Walker and support many of the things the Republicans are trying to do, but this budget plan — as I said — will cost me more than $10,000 a year.

Posted by Matt Bodie on February 18, 2011 at 11:40 AM in Workplace Law | Permalink


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It is pretty funny to see the deranged comments from her commentators:

MnMark said...
Why is there even a University of Wisconsin Law School anyway? Why is the state government in the business of educating students to go into business as lawyers? How is that a state interest? We don't have a School of Plumbing at UW, do we?

Students can go get educated in the legal trade from some school operating in the free market. If there was ever a reason back in the 19th century to have a public university in the business of training people for careers like law, it has disappeared. I don't see why I should pay taxes for law professors' salaries and health plans and pensions so they can train a bunch of lawyers to go out and skin me in the marketplace.

2/18/11 10:40 AM

I have always found it amusing that the most insane Republicans all seem to come out of a public sector position, Armey, Gingrich, et al. All sucked feverishly on the public teet until it was time to rile up the simple minded conservative drones.

Posted by: Da Biz | Feb 19, 2011 6:04:35 PM

To soonerfan: There is no "market rate" for bankers, lawyers, doctors, etc. There is gov't subvention. Dean Baker's "Conservative Nanny State" makes the case in detail.

To Positroll: Great points all. There already is a New Deal 2.0 blog at Roosevelt Institute.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 18, 2011 10:32:28 PM

If althouse is getting a $10,000 hit from all of this, I imagine the rest of the UW law school faculty are as well. I wonder if they will have retention trouble in the future. I would imagine so. When I was on the market, the rumor was that their professors were typically paid well under market rates. Losing 10 grand a year would be quite a smack in the face. Are any other law faculties out there looking at big drops in income? If it can happen at wisconsin, I imagine those of us at lesser public schools should worry as well.

Posted by: soonerfan | Feb 18, 2011 3:19:22 PM

As a European looking at these discussions, I cannot help but wonder whether the union bashing might be a preventive move:

Is it possible that the Republican leadership is afraid that the current crisis might give people ideas that the American type on-your-own capitalism doesn't work as advertised (trickle down etc) ? That - despite FOX and after the teaparty crazyness has run its course - people might figure out that in those socialist hellholes like Norway,
a.k.a. a Europe style social democracy (with strong unions) at least 80% of the population would be better off than under the current system? http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/147859

So maybe by busting the remaining unions they (Republican strategists) want to make sure that there can be no organized movement away from the old system towards e.g. high taxes on the rich ...?

In other words: If I were in charge of the PR campaign of public workers in Wisconsin I'd try to change the campaign away from the "outrageous" benefits I'm getting towards pointing out that these kinds of benefits are common for all kind of workers around the developed world and were once common in the US, too - and that the system should be changed in a way that all Americans (especially the middle class) can again receive such benefits ... Maybe call it "New Deal 2.0" or something along these lines ...

Posted by: Positroll | Feb 18, 2011 12:39:12 PM

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