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A "Left-Right Alliance" Against Public Sector Unions?

Consumer advocate and left-wing activist Ralph Nader has just written a book entitled “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.” In a Salon interview published on May 2, Nader lists five areas where the left and right can agree on policy goals: (1) controlling security state overreach, (2) eliminating corporate welfare, (3) fighting military overspending and waste, (4) cracking down on Wall Street financial fraud, and (5) revisiting international agreements that undermine American sovereignty.

Populist right-wing commentator Patrick Buchanan has taken notice. In a column published on May 19th entitled “A Left-Right Convergence?,” Buchanan identifies the rift within conservative ranks that provides an opening for convergence with the left. He writes:

“Undeniably, there has been a growing gap and a deepening alienation between traditional conservatives and those Ralph calls the ‘corporate conservatives.’ And it is not only inside the conservative movement and the GOP that the rift is growing, but also Middle America.”

As for the left? Here are two easily identified, escalating rifts that are dividing liberals: The first, construction unions vs. environmentalists, as exemplified by their conflict over the Keystone Pipeline. The second, public sector union Democrats vs. progressive Democrats. As San Jose’s mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat, puts it:

“There’s a difference between being liberal and progressive and being a union Democrat.”

This second rift has immediate importance in California, and it has immediate potential for what could become California’s regional version of a left-right alliance. Here are three areas where California’s left and right can unite:

(1) Charter schools: California’s public schools have failed millions of students. Charter schools, unconstrained by union work rules, have become laboratories of innovation. They have consistently delivered better educational outcomes at lower cost. Their proliferation should be encouraged.

(2) Pension reform: California’s cities, counties and state agencies now face unfunded pension liabilities that – depending on what assumptions you make – total between $200 and $500 billion. Annual pension contributions now consume as much as 25% of the general fund budget in major cities. Reform is vital.

(3) Transparency: Closed door negotiations enable sweetheart deals between policymakers and public sector union leaders; these secret negotiations also occur between policymakers and government contractors. Open negotiations allow citizen watchdogs early warning and prevent corruption. They should be mandatory.

Enacting these reforms and others requires taking on the immense political power of public sector unions. The prerogatives of unions, embattled in the private sector, are sacred to liberals, and to some extent perhaps they should be. But public sector unions are fundamentally different from private sector unions. Their goals are inherently in conflict with the public interest. They have no natural checks on their power because they elect their own bosses, and, unlike unions in the private sector, their survival is not dependent on the financial health of a competitive company. And because their members enforce the law, approve permit applications, conduct inspections, etc., they have a coercive power over the business community that co-opts it. Finally, public sector unions enrich the very bankers they rhetorically demonize, because their bloated payrolls and overbuilt government agencies – the measure of their success – cause deficits that earn billions for bond underwriters. Similarly, their over-generous pension funds pour hundreds of billions each year directly into Wall Street investment firms. These monopolistic vested interests – public sector unions, large corporations, and the financial sector – share a common agenda to squelch competition and increase the cost of living for the rest of America. Only a left-right coalition can hope to counter their power.

For the left and the right to unite on these critical issues, they have to acknowledge what Ralph Nader and Patrick Buchanan have realized – partisan lines in America are blurring. The simplistic polarity of right vs. left is a myth. Why else would the increasingly authoritarian, corporatist status-quo be something that public sector unions have just as much interest in preserving as multi-national corporations? The “left” must stand up to public sector unions. The “right” must stand up to crony capitalists. They must work together.

In the recent Salon interview, Nader said “the most manipulated voter is a single-issue voter.” He’s right. In order to work together on issues of fundamental importance, whether they are regional issues here in California, or issues that face the entire nation, both sides will have to accept that their incongruous partners still bitterly oppose many of their most cherished ideals.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Avoiding the Oversimplifications of “Right Wing” vs. “Left Wing”

Editor’s Note:  Our exposes of the detrimental impact of public sector unions to America’s economic health, private sector workers, taxpayers, civil liberties, and democracy itself, are routinely derided as “right-wing extremism.” Our position has been to consistently maintain that public sector union reform – if not outright abolition – is a strictly non partisan issue that has compelling value for anyone who values, as noted, America’s economic health, private sector workers, taxpayers, civil liberties, and democracy. We have also consistently attempted to make clear that there is a natural identity of interests between public sector unions and other powerful political and financial elites, because they all benefit when power of government is expanded. This post by Nick Sorrentino, editor of AgainstCronyCapitalism.org, provides a useful alternative model for the political spectrum. Sorrentino’s original post, plus the post on The Hill’s Campaign Blog that prompted it, plus the many comments on both of them, make for additional insightful reading. Anyone who currently thinks the “right wing” is out to get “working families” because they object to the power of public sector unions, should read all of this with an open mind.    

Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, has labeled President Obama a “corporatist” (view report). Schweitzer says Obama has moved to the “Right.” What does “Right” even mean these days?

Schweitzer is trying to “out progressive” Hillary Clinton and other challengers by throwing some bombs. In this case–at least on the corporatist charge–a bomb of truth.

But he heads into the bushes when he asserts that Obama has moved “Right.”

It’s funny, the only people I see ever talking about “Right” and “Left” seriously these days are the statists. Though deeply ingrained in our psyches the “Right/Left” paradigm doesn’t make much sense. I still use it as shorthand on occasion, but I don’t like to because the Right/Left thing as we knew it in the 20th Century is not very helpful, even though it is familiar and easy to fall into.

There are people who are still convinced that fascism is not a form of socialism. These are the same people who believe that FDR didn’t look to Mussolini for tips. They still adhere to the 20th Century political continuum which holds that there are flavors of statism at opposite poles, but that statism is a given. That the “state” is the ether through which all politics flow.

This is false.

The Continuum of No Government to Total Government

Sorrentino-graphic

I believe a more accurate explanation of politics is a continuum which moves from 0% government on one end, to 100% government on the other end. Fascism (corporatism, crony capitalism), social democracy, international socialism, general despotism are all of a similar type and are generally on the same end of the spectrum. On the other end one would have total “anarchy” (not in the sense of people burning cars and looting, but in the sense of people living as completely private agents without rulers), libertarianism, small government conservatism, etc.

Even this explanation is far from perfect. But it’s better than the antiquated one we’ve been saddled with for over a century which makes absolutely no sense at all if one thinks about it.

About the Author:  Nick Sorrentino is the co-founder and editor of AgainstCronyCapitalism.org. A political and communications consultant with clients across the political spectrum, he lives just outside of Washington DC where he can keep an eye on Leviathan. This post originally appeared in AgainstCronyCapitalism.org and appears here with permission.

Additional References and Notes:

An article referenced in the comments section of Sorrentino’s post is worth special mention here. Entitled “All Ends of the Spectrum,” it includes the following diagram called the Pournelle Chart. This offers another paradigm of political ideology that is arguably more representational than the conventional left right split:

The Pournelle Chart – Two Axes of Ideological Continua

Pournelle-chart

These references would not be complete – particularly in the context of how advocates for public sector union reform cannot accurately be placed into a conventional right vs. left paradigm, without mentioning an article turned up via Google search, written in the public finance blog CIV FI entitled “The Extremists of the Status Quo.” The author offers – thankfully without a diagram – three continua that presumably constitute a three-dimensional paradigm. Two of those continua borrow from a typical libertarian litmus test, pitting libertarian vs. statist on the first axis, and social liberal vs. social conservative on the second. This post then adds a third axis, pitting “emergent” vs. “status-quo.” To quote from the post:

“Observing this third political continuum, representing a preference for dominance by status quo vested interests at one extreme, vs. embracing disruptive, upwardly mobile forces at the other, sends a multitude of valuable messages regarding how and where the force of democracy can be effectively applied, and how enlightened electorates can be empowered. For example, embracing disruptive technologies and encouraging entrepreneurship often causes the dismantling of powerful bureaucracies across the entire spectra of vested interests – corporations, agencies, and unions. Such an embrace of competition and merit is color-blind and gender-blind, and gives the small players the chance to become big players; it nurtures economic pluralism in a free market. It embodies a version of capitalism that challenges conventional stereotypes.

Using the status-quo vs. upwardly mobile continuum can inform studies examining the reality of worker compensation between those who are lucky enough to work for the government, or belong to powerful private sector unions, and the rest of the workforce, who exist within the meritocracy of the globalized private sector. If you make these comparisons for workforces, the crowing by public employee union spokespersons about “executive compensation” is revealed as a canard, because the privileged members of public sector unions, ultimately, share a preference for the status quo with those wealthy elites. It is not tens of thousands of allegedly overpaid executives, but tens of millions of ordinary private sector workers, blue collar and white collar, non-union and often even those who are unionized, who occupy the other extreme on this new continuum, they are the upwardly mobile who compete in the global economy without special privileges.

Only by visualizing and aspiring to the centrist space within a cube that represents these three very distinct value continua can policymakers and policy advocates who aspire to a healthy and prosperous democracy properly diagnose and cure the extremes of collusion between corporations, government, and unions, and place the other more conventional versions of left and right into their proper perspective.”

Food for thought.