The controversy with public schoolteachers in Wisconsin proves, once again, that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference in principle between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. This time, the big battle between the statists is whether state schoolteachers should be allowed to collectively bargain. The conservatives say no. The liberals say yes.
Yawn. Regardless of which way the issue is resolved, it’s not going solve the basic problem: The state of Wisconsin lacks the money to pay its bills and fulfill its commitments.
The latest battle between the statists arises in the context of Wisconsin’s budget woes, which are similar in principle to those in Greece. Like the Greek government, the state of Wisconsin has been spending and borrowing money for years along with making commitments to state pensioners that it cannot keep.
In Wisconsin, as in Greece, the welfare-state chickens are coming home to roost. The state’s revenues are insufficient to pay the bills. State officials, who lack the constitutional authority to simply print money to pay the bills, are having to slash spending, which has sent those who receive the state’s largess on the warpath. “Don’t take away our dole,” they cry.
But in their demand to keep their largess, the dole recipients forget that the state does not have an independent fountain of wealth. To get more money, it must impose heavier taxes on the citizenry, who are already hard-pressed just to make ends meet. Moreover, heavier taxes are likely to drive marginal firms out of business or cause them to leave the state, thereby aggravating the problem.
Wisconsin might just be the first of a string of state dominoes to be falling. With the federal government itself hurtling toward bankruptcy owing to its ever-increasing welfare-warfare state spending and debt, and with such foreign welfare states as Greece and Ireland on the ropes, and now with American state governments in financial straits, the world might just be witnessing the death throes of the welfare state at all levels of government.
Americans would be wise to use this crisis as an opportunity to ask some fundamental questions, especially: “What is the proper role of government in a free society?” Then, people should dismantle all the departments and agencies doing things that government should not be doing and laying off all the bureaucrats who are engaged that illegitimate activity.
One example is charity. The state has no business being in the charity business. Charity is the business of the private sector, which is based on voluntary choices that people make on how to dispose of their wealth. When the state forcibly takes money from one person through taxation and gives it to another person, that’s not charity. It’s legalized theft. Dismantle every single department and agency that’s in the charity business and lay off all the workers.
Another example: the drug war. This decades-long war has wrought nothing but death, destruction, corruption, and ruined lives. Time to ditch it permanently, just as our ancestors did with alcohol prohibition. Legalize drugs and lay off all the bureaucrats, including prosecutors, drug agents, and judges, who depend on the drug war for their income.
A third example: Separate school and state by ending all state involvement in education. Repeal compulsory-attendance laws and school taxes, lay off all the public-school administrators and teachers, and get rid of the school buses and buildings. Rely totally on the free market for education, as we do with religion. Teachers would then be free to negotiate pay in the free market, just as other people in the private sector do.
Will any of this be done? Not if conservative and liberals have their way. They’re convinced that the state should be in the charity business, in the drug-war business, and in the education business. In fact, they simply cannot imagine life without statism.
But reality is mugging people in the face, not only in Greece and Washington but also in Wisconsin and other states. The state simply cannot meet its welfare-state obligations. They can’t tax people more heavily or borrow more money because people in the private sector are not in a financial position to handle higher taxes and more debt.
What to do? It’s time to ask that fundamental question: What should be the role of government in a free society? Once we answer that question, we can then dismantle all the departments, agencies, and bureaucracies that are engaged in illegitimate activity and end all the spending, taxes, and borrowing needed to sustain them.