A year after Governor Scott Walker signed a much publicized bill removing collective bargaining rights from public sector unions, Wisconsin is, as the Washington Post puts it, the most polarized state in the country as Walker faces a recall election. Conservative Republicans overwhelmingly love him and liberal Democrats can’t stand him. But besides the divide and the debate over the bill, the protests and reactions to the bill reveal a troubling microcosm for the future.
Walker’s bill did essentially nothing to solve the state’s budget deficit by making public union members pay just over $3,000 a year extra for their pension and benefits, Walker and state Republicans said the bill would save $300 million from a state budget with a $3 billion deficit. In order to balance the budget, Walker would have to increase cuts over 10-fold simply to stop being in the red. Additionally, Walker even exempted the unions representing firefighters, police, and state troopers from this 6% pay cut.
And yet despite these small cuts, tens of thousands protested in Madison. Now magnify this times a thousand, and you have the issue of the federal budget and federal spending. The U.S. government is over $15 trillion in debt and owes over a $100 trillion in unfunded entitlement obligations. This is beyond unsustainable, and yet any calls for cuts in the federal budget are met with similar outcries.
President Obama called Paul Ryan’s budget plan — which increases military spending, debt, and deficits and balances the budget in 30 years — as “social darwinism.” Even Tea Party voters oppose any cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Given that it would be both impossibleand economically disastrous to try to plug the deficit by soaking the rich (or anyone else), what’s going to happen when the eventual cuts — whether outright or in the plunging value of the dollar as the Fed prints the money needed to fund the government — have to come?
The problem is less a mathematical one than a philosophical one. If we expect the government to be involved in every minutiae of our lives, run an empire, a welfare state, and have the ability to print money endlessly, then there is no way we can even begin to solve our budget problems. But if we view government as an institution with the sole purpose of protecting the liberty of every individual, than we begin to see that since government can only spend what it takes from private citizens by force, any reduction in government spending is always a positive good.
Although I sympathize with anyone protesting perceived injustice, after a century of a philosophy of government interventionism that has resulted in trillions of debt and stagnant economic growth, it’s time we give liberty a try.