The divisive bill in Wisconsin has now become law.† Officially called Wisconsin Act 10, its unofficial titles depend on who you ask. Conservatives adhere to ‘budget repair’, while those affected by its fallout refer to it as ‘union busting’, or a generalized attack on the middle class. Regardless of your political views, few dispute that this has anything to do with budgets. In addition to banning collective bargaining, it significantly decreases the power of unions to collect dues and will help break their political clout, eliminates union contracts enabling more direct manipulation of public workers’ pay, benefits and work situation by administration and government, cuts public school budgets while increasing money available for charter schools, and other measures that have nothing to do with budgets. At the same time, it allows for considerable tax breaks for large companies and reduces the Capital Gains Tax by over $36 million; at the same time there will be a $56 million tax increase for over 150,000 families by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit. The wealthy will be rewarded, the lower classes punished. Public worker unions will be broken, with the exception of public safety (police, firefighters) unions are left untouched. Walker’s bill rewards the supporters of the Republican party, and breaks the supporters of the Democratic party. Wisconsin’s budget is incidental. Communism, then terrorism, and now budgets are the emergencies used to justify extraordinary measures that are just the same prongs of an ideological agenda.
The protests over this bill have been a tremendous show of numbers and energy that will be applied to the recalls and 2012 elections that will surely result in turnover of state houses and reversal of some of these policies. The problem is, winning elections matters little in the long run. A liberal agenda is to provide for the weak, elderly, the racial minorities, and regulate powerful forces that would otherwise make life miserable; this is done by a Byzantine series of laws that provides legal protection, and a system of graduated taxation that allows for public education and health care for the most vulnerable in society. To erode this system is easy, and the work has been steady since the 1980s. By cutting the budget for public schools, slashing unemployment benefits, and disabling regulatory bodies like the FDA, one can decrease the effective work they do. In the PR blitz to follow, one simply points out that those programs are incompetent, and should be further broken. Liberals have never understood fully just how easily dismantled some key elements of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society would be. Cut the budget, and the programs disappear. Meanwhile, by decreasing tax revenues from the wealthy and other groups that tend to support conservatives, you increase the money available for elections. By clearing the way for mass cash infusions into elections (as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission did in January of 2010), the playing field is further tilted to the right. Democrats will do well in the next election, but dismantling the laws that have been passed will take decades. Meanwhile, the coffers for the conservative faithful will continue to fill, and the consistently amnestic public opinion will turn against liberals again, and the cycle continues. The powerful lesson has already been learned – public outrage need not influence politicians since the goal is not to win elections, but to disrupt the proper mechanics of the government, and keep hammering away until it falls. Liberals are on their heels and still stumbling backwards looking for a recourse. Winning elections may provide enough time to appoint judges at all levels that will not necessarily support corporate interests, but even Democrats are quick to choose fiscal conservatives to appeal to their wealthy donors. Even this most formidable weapon is disregarded.
This will result in the inevitable slide over the next few decades towards the libertarian utopia that has been dreamed about by Ayn Rand fanatics. Right or wrong, this is where we are headed. Our little democratic experiment is already weak. In an age signified by a glut of information the electorate remains fairly ignorant about the issues that directly affect them. Effective attack ads serve as the single most influential factor in elections, and voter turnout is a joke. That and the legacy of Lee Atwater’s ingenious work in persuading Americans to vote against their own interests guarantees the inevitable slide. Time is on the side of the libertarians as money and voter apathy are more reliable forces than the system of tax and bureaucracy that defends liberal interests. The waves that crash upon Medicare or unions have intensified after globalization of the economy. Unions were truly broken when our labor markets were exposed to China and India, and people willing to work for a fraction of Americans. Exportation of jobs led to lower costs for goods and concealment of corporate assets overseas leading to erosion of middle class earning power and a decrease in tax revenues; less political money for liberals and less of a budget for the things they care about. Some of the slack has been taken up by tech jobs, but those are even easier to export than manufacturing. All the while, free market demagogues gain ground in Washington while managed economies like China take advantage; they have no such qualms about manipulating currency values, and seem to have a vested interest in remaining a economic power beyond the next financial quarter.
None of this is any reason to fret – voters have wanted to rid themselves of regulation for a long time now. That regulation allows for cheap and effective public education, health care coverage, stable job markets, and the ability to raise a family and live with some degree of comfort is beyond the point. Americans are acting as though they have grown soft and less adaptable, and are more than willing to fall upon the sword for the sins of the Great Society. Since their children will have a greater struggle ahead as a result, one must admire their willingness to sacrifice their comfortable future in favor of a clean and pure system of libertarian economic warfare that will benefit only the elite. Truly a brave new world.
Since the only true libertarian economy in the world today is Somalia’s, it is difficult to imagine what a broader global economy run by Libertarian principles would look like.† For one thing, there would be no annoying elections; administrators where necessary would be appointed by the largest landowners; otherwise governments, nations, and borders would have no reason to exist as they would invariably hamper commerce. Individuals would have very broad training in private trade schools so they could be highly adaptable since there would be no steady jobs. Projects would come and go, and everyone would be essentially freelance. Contracts would not exist since regulatory bodies would be necessary to enforce them, and since money talks, any dispute between worker and owner would be in favor of the owner. Property ownership would be a thorny issue since there would be no legal system as such; banks would protect the interests of their customers, but if it is in the interest of a company to seize a person’s land for development, the individual would hardly have the power to stop the larger company. One item in Walker’s bill actually makes this process easier. Since large corporations would control the means of commerce, and prices could be easily fixed with agreements between companies, it would behoove the lower classes to develop a black market to get any sort of fair deal for their dollar. Without organized police, firefighters, or emergency health services, only private companies would provide protection. If you have not paid your dues, 911 will be of no help to you, and the private army hired to kill you off would not be repelled by the relatively cheap security service to which you have paid your regular tithe. The world will be exciting, to be sure, but not for the faint of heart. At least the life expectancy will come down to a more reasonable fifty or so, since there is no economic reason to keep people alive when they no longer provide a cheap source of labor.
Of course, this absurdly apocalyptic scenario would never come to pass since libertarians are as full of shit as socialists. When it matters, even free market adherents love government and the role it can play in ensuring no bid contracts to friends and favors in exchange for funds. Walker may be working to cripple union strength, but uses his government position to give tax breaks to campaign finance sources, legalizing concealed carry gun laws (though strangely not into his office), and provide funding to charter schools despite the strain it places on the budget he holds most almighty.† Conservatives will always try to please their narrow-minded constituencies, and eliminating taxes only pleases the wealthiest. The rest will be sated by government-sponsored edicts of some sort, whether they are funding for religious teaching or bailouts for businesses with shitty business plans. Public funding also benefits private corporations in many ways at present. Funding for research via the National Institutes of Health or the National Cancer Institute yields molecular targets for treatment for which pharmaceuticals can be designed; these are handed over to pharmaceutical giants who benefit greatly when selling expensive new patented drugs developed using taxpayer money. Without the hated government, Big Pharma would need to do all the heavy lifting of discovering the targets from scratch, and that sort of risk is more easily placed on the public. The stability to businesses provided by financial regulation may annoy the elite, but the long term benefits of not going out of business escapes the short-term greedy. Of course, by the time free market conservative apologetics realize they have been duped, the system will be entrenched and the despised Great Society erased from public consciousness and history books alike. Unfortunately, the populace will get exactly what they want.