Sorry for the lack of free ice cream (inside blog joke). I’m busy as heck, all the stuff I want to blog is complex and long, and to be frank the (U.S.) news is too effing depressing to keep me very motivated. Between Jocko, Terri, and the news from Red Lake High School I’m having my fill of human frailty.
I’ll comment on them as I find time (and if they’re still of any interest to anyone).
But I saw something interesting I wanted to make sure people saw, and then something else that I think ties neatly to it – and summarizes a lot of my frustration – and hope – in domestic politics, anyway.
First, an article by Christopher Hayes called “How to Turn Your Red State Blue.”
It’s a paean to ground-level political organizing, and advocates, simply, that liberals copy Mormon youths on their missions. Literally.
I love it, in no small part because I believe that it would be transformative for modern liberalism – it would force liberals to get out and talk to their fellow Americans, and it just might result in some opened eyes on both sides of the ideological fence. It would, more than anything reaffirm the connection liberals have – and ought to have – with their fellow Americans and with America as a whole. I may disagree with some small parts of his program, but on a macro level, bring it on.
Hayes points out the struggle for relevance within the labor movement as an example of why his kind of ground-level organizing is necessary.
Then I read Dan Weintraub’s column in the Bee, on the defined-benefit pension plans in San Diego County.
But if San Diego County is a model of success, I would hate to see what failure looks like.
The county’s pension fund is facing a $1.2 billion unfunded liability. The shortfall is the result of generous benefit increases awarded when the stock market hit its peak earlier this decade, followed later by investment losses. The deficit has grown even though the county has borrowed money three times since 1994 – in increments of $430 million, $737 million and, most recently, $454 million – to help keep the pension fund afloat.
San Diego taxpayers, meanwhile, are paying about 23 cents on top of every dollar of county workers’ salaries to provide these benefits. And those taxpayer contributions don’t even reflect the money it takes to service the county’s debt, which is accounted for separately.
It’s relatively easy to keep a pension fund solvent if you are willing to borrow unlimited amounts – obligating future taxpayers – and pay one-fourth of the cost of salary in premiums to the plan. But that’s not evidence of success. It’s just the opposite.
What happened? The powerful local unions took the county for a ride – one that many other public agencies are taking as well.
And it gets worse.
Worse because, as Weintraub points out in his blog:
One interesting item I came across in my research but didn’t fit into the column:
Since San Diego County increased pension benefits by 25 percent to 35 percent three years ago, the average salary of county employees has climbed by 23 percent.
Doesn’t this call into question the argument that sweet pensions are necessary to make up for the lack of competitive salaries in the public sector? If pensions and wages were a trade-off, you wouldn’t expect to see them both soaring at the same time.
But they are, and they do (I earlier noted some crude studies that suggested that public sector employees were getting paid as well or better than employees in the private sector. Their pay has certainly risen faster.)
And to go back to Hayes’ article, what has happened is that the labor movement has abandoned the low-paid employees that it ought to defend in favor of high-wage public employees who are easy to defend. Hayes doesn’t see labor involvement in the lives of average working Americans because the labor movement is working hard for those who may need it least.
We have a Skybox labor movement to go with the Skybox liberals.