Thursday, March 10, 2011

Insanity in Wisconsin - Understanding the Protests

The protests taking place in Wisconsin are depressing. They're depressing because I've come to realize that a large plurality, maybe even a majority in some places, don't understand what their rights are. Let's look at a few quotes that were widely publicized yesterday after Wisconsin Republicans passed the non-financial portion of the Union bill:

"The gig is now up. The fraud on the people of Wisconsin is now very clear. They are now going to pass a bill to take away people's rights."

Sen. Mark Miller, the Democratic Senate leader, said Republicans "conspired to take government away from the people."

"In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin," Miller said in a statement condemning the vote. "Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten."

First, what rights are being taken away? None. Civil rights? Really? Collective bargaining, in this case, was enacted by the passing of a state law in 1959 and not as a fundamental freedom. Freedom of speech and freedom of association are rights, but collective bargaining by public employees is no such right.

But that doesn't kill their argument, because some things make logical sense even if they're not rights. Let's look at the meat of the deal. It aims to have government workers to make a 5.8% contribution to their pensions and a 12.6% contribution to their health-insurance premium instead of the 0% they currently pay. That's a fairly generous deal, considering I don't have the option of a pension at all and the average percentage of insurance premium paid by private workers is 16% for single coverage and 28% for family coverage.

Did Republicans conspire to take the government away from the people? I see no way that they did. In fact, Gov. Scott Walker, when running for Governor, ran on a platform of curtailing union rights for public employees as a way to save money. Scott Walker won election. Also, Republicans swept both houses of their state assembly. Elections have consequences. It's why we have a health care law that many Republicans despise, and it's why this law will soon pass in Wisconsin.

In reality, the Democrats conspired to take the government away from the people by not allowing a majority that had the votes to pass the bill to do it in an orderly manner. The Democrats, by fleeing the state, forced the Republicans' hand into passing the bill with only 19 senators present.

These facts are reason enough to see through the protesters' arguments. The truth is that we've reached a point where we are protesting not for civil rights or moral issues, but for simple financial gain. That's what depressing. Are we really that selfish and narcissistic that we believe that we have a "right" to a certain salary, level of benefits, and retirement plan?

We have a right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, as well as a number of other rights. We have the right to decline a job offer because it doesn't meet our requirements or to leave after many years on the job in order to take a risk and become more successful. I'm glad I have the freedom to choose my own path in life - and I hope I choose one that makes me both happy and successful. But I don't expect my success to be legislated for me, nor should public employees expect that in Wisconsin.

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