Apr 26, 2011

Taxpayers vs. public workers — a bogus conflict.

Sometimes a storyline is communicated by a single word. Like taxpayers — a word that Governor Walker and other Republicans seem especially fond of lately.

"[Protesters'] voices cannot drown out the voices of the countless taxpayers who want us to balance our budgets," wrote Gov. Walker in the Wall Street Journal (emphasis mine, here and throughout).

"The system is broken. It costs taxpayers serious money," he said in his Feb. 22 TV address — the so-called fireside chat.

Also from that address: "As more and more protesters come in from Nevada, Chicago and elsewhere, I am not going to allow their voices to overwhelm the voices of the millions of taxpayers from across the state who think we're doing the right thing."

Embedded in Walker's remarks is a narrative of sector conflict. Private and public sectors are against each other, and the private needs protection.

The private sector produces, this story goes. It's made up of heroic entrepreneurs, who create jobs and drive the economy forward. It's independent from the public sector. It's the real world, the sphere where free people freely take the risks that advance progress and enhance the quality of life. It comes first.

In contrast, the public sector doesn't produce. It doesn't create a single job. It exists solely to serve the private sector and is therefore secondary, even subservient.

But public-sector unions have thrown the relationship out of whack, the story continues. Through collective bargaining, they've wielded power not befitting their position, securing bloated benefits and inordinate job security for public workers. So now it's time to protect taxpayers and put public servants back in their rightful place.

Ugh. Though frequently referenced by today's Republican leaders, this sector-conflict storyline is totally bogus. The truth is that the two sectors are equally essential, mutually dependent and beautifully complementary when allowed to be so.

The public sector provides the context enabling private action to take place. Without the public sector, there would be no consumers sufficiently educated to read about or pay for the private sectors' goods and services. No courts to adjudicate contract disputes. No laws or law enforcers to ensure commercial transport by land, sea, or air. No firefighters to save commercial buildings and equipment. No environmental protections to ensure safe drinking water and clean air. No military force to protect our borders and way of life from invaders.

Without those things, the private sector as we know it would not, could not exist. The impulse to succeed, to compete, to win would be unchecked by rules ensuring fairness and mitigating against harm.

Such a world exists. And not just in the fantasies of Ayn Rand and her current influential followers. You can watch it nightly on NatGeo. It's the world of the animal kingdom, where only the strongest and luckiest win, and it's winner take all. The jungle, the Serengeti and the deep blue sea are free from bureaucrats and their pesky rules.

I prefer civilization. And that's what the public sector provides. Public workers depend on taxpayers as much as taxpayers depend on public workers. No more, no less.

Away with this bogus conflict! We in both sectors are in this drama together, playing different but equal roles in the struggle to create the best world and live the best lives we can.

Rings true to me. And you?


  1. Mutual respect is key to a successful nation and by pitting the private sector against the public sector the Rand band are sowing the seeds of class warfare. Both sectors (private and public)need each other for this society to prosper. It is a pity that the American public allows this Rand band to be taken seriously as the vast number of Americans will be thrown under the bus should this unfeeling greedy group get the chance to implement their agenda

  2. Jonathan, agreed. I detest Ayn Rand's ethic of egoism. As I allude to in the blog, egoism unleashed is nothing more than the jungle.

  3. "Without the public sector, there would be no consumers sufficiently educated to read about or pay for the private sectors' goods and services."

    That's crazy talk.

  4. Hmmm. Though I posted this earlier, but apparently it didn't work. So, I'll repeat: Ken, nuh uh.