Although it is always possible to overstate, and, yes, understate our economic problems, a simple understanding of mathematics makes clear that we have run out of time to postpone action on the various nodes of our long-term economic problems.
The person at the door is no mere salesman or charity fundraiser. This time it’s the Economic Piper himself, insisting on being paid.
Fortunately, some political leaders have emerged from the individual states who are so far prepared to see that the United States of America is going to pay its bills. It should come as no surprised that these leaders have not arisen from the current federal legislatures, the house and the senate, to show us the way out of a fiscal collapse.
These four men riding grass roots horses are governors from the states, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and John Kasich of Ohio are the four lead horsemen, but there is a small cavalry behind them, including several new governors elected in the 2010 election, and a few holdovers now reinvigorated to do the job they realize they must do. Only Christie was elected before 2010, and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who also sounded the economic alarm in his two terms, has retired to run for president.
While the first sounds of this movement in the states came from Christie in New Jersey, the insurrection itself has arisen in Wisconsin as Governor Walker followed through on his campaign promises to begin to resolve the state’s fiscal woes, woes that incidentally affect most of the 50 states. Mr. Walker and the Republican- controlled legislature have decided to transform the state’s relationship with most of its unionized public employees, asserting that the wages and benefits of these workers are simply not sustainable. As I said at the outset, basic mathematics makes his assertion unassailable. Understandably, organized labor realizes that Governor Walker’s solutions would mean the ultimate end of the public employee unions because he has included in his remedies the removal of public employee union collective bargaining.
Massive and angry demonstrations from union leaders and members have resulted, and in Wisconsin have also resulted in the entire Democratic state senate, who are nothing more than paid agents of the unions, fleeing the state to Illinois to prevent a final vote on the enabling legislation. This ludicrous spectacle, an open defiance of the basic American principle that elections mean something, and that majorities rule, has further turned public opinion against unions. Filled with pitiable self-righteousness, union leaders have overspent a hundred years of good will among voters at large. Polls indicate that the general public opposes the union position by two to one. Unions from across the nation have been drawn into the cause celebre. While there are a few who want to restrict all unions, it is clear that the collective bargaining rights of industrial and service workers are not being serious challenged. Nor should they be.
This is only the beginning of a series of actions which governors, legislatures, and yes, the U.S. Congress must take on the whole range of public spending, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, education, social welfare and taxation.
The cliches always cited before we arrived at this point, by both Democrats and Republicans, were that fixing our economic problems was not going to be easy, painless and without hard choices. Now we are here, and the cliches are no longer mere rhetoric, but are unavoidable realities with no time to spare.
We have the most advanced and fairest economic system in the world. We are the envy of the rest of the world because of it. But we have allowed our system to be partially corrupted, compromised and unbalanced. We rested on our laurels, and indulged ourselves on feel-good actions that have undermined the fundamentals of a free democratic society.
The protests in Wisconsin are only the beginning of reactions that various interest groups will display to resist true change and common sense solutions to our problems. We are a free society, and their protests must be allowed to be voiced, but unless they are backed by a majority of the governed, the voters, they cannot be allowed to obstruct the repair of our economic system.
Much responsibility thus rests on the shoulders of these four governors, and the cavalry of their colleagues riding to join them from coast to coast. Nor is the solution restricted to one political party. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown of California, the state with perhaps the worst fiscal problems of all, is showing signs of understanding what governors and states must do now. Other Democratic governors are beginning to signal they are willing to be leaders in resolving the economic problems, and not avoiding them and not compounding them. While there are many who would wish to make this crisis only a partisan issue, it is simply not a partisan issue. Everyone has a stake in a successful resolution of our problems.