Thursday, November 10, 2011
That's how Distinctly Catholic's Michael Sean Winters scores the recent un-doing of the not-quite-as recent efforts to rein in public-employee unions in Ohio. I'd rather agree with Winters, as when he's writing good stuff about the Freedom of the Church, but I'm afraid I cannot here.
I'm pretty sure I'm as big a fan of Leo XIII as there could be, and also that I've read his social-question writings (including Rerum novarum) at least as closely as most, but I'm afraid the better way to score the unfortunate outcome in Ohio is "Big Labor Money, most from out of Ohio -- 1, Our Children, Fiscal Sanity, and Doom Avoidance 0."
To be clear: mine is not an "anti-union" or anti-labor point, nor am I calling into question the idea that the public employment should be regulated so as to make sure public employees are treated fairly, in safe environments. Of course private-sector workers have a moral right (and should have a legal right) to unionize, and of course labor unions played an important role in securing various important employment-related regulations and reforms (as well as various in-hindsigh unsustainable practices that are sorely hurting many American companies and driving industry elsewhere). Still, the notion that the current pensions / benefits / dues-extraction / bargaining / tenure / security regime enjoyed by public-employee unions in places like Ohio is one that is required by (or, indeed, even consonant with), Leo XIII and the Church's social-doctrine is, I think, wrong and bad for our political community and our children.
UPDATE: Michael responds to me, here. Two quick points: First, Michael writes: "Unions serve as a check on the monied interest, whose power is, in a free society, always going to be dominant. I also see unions as a key part of the social fabric, embodying the kind of intermediate social organizations called for by the Catholic social principle of subsidiarity." I agree that labor unions (that is, associations of workers) can serve as checks "on the monied interest." (Whether they always do is an interesting question.) And, I have never questioned the role of unions in the social fabric or the relevance of the principle of subsidiarity. But, again, I think this statement does not sufficiently take account of the very different dynamic at play in the relationship between public employees, the government, and taxpayers. I think it is essential, if we want to implement faithfully the Church's social doctrine, that we take account of this dynamic.
Second, Michael says "given the choice between raising taxes on rich folk and cutting benefits for teachers and firefighters and policement and sanitation workers, I will vote for raising taxes on the rich every day of the week." But, with all due respect, this is not the choice I'm addressing, or the one that, really, we face. In order to avoid very serious fiscal problems in the not-very-distant future, cutting the (in many cases) excessive and inflated and unsustainable benefits of public employees will be necessary, in part because "raising taxes on rich folk" would not and could not supply enough revenue (putting aside questions about who "the rich" are and what their fair-share of taxes should be) to sustain our current practices and meet our current entitlement-spending obligations.