Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The Need to Curb the Role of Public Employee Unions Is Clear as Bankruptcy Looms for Many States and Cities
The state of Illinois is trying to pay billions in bills that it got from schools and social service providers last year. Arizona recently stopped paying for certain organ transplants for people in its Medicaid program. States are releasing prisoners early, largely to cut expenses. In December, the city of Newark, New Jersey, laid off 13 percent of its police officers.
"It seems to me that crying wolf is probably a good thing to do at this point," said Felix Rohatyn, the financier who helped save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.
One of the important contributing factors in the current economic decline in the fortunes of our states and cities is the role being played by public employee unions.
While union membership has collapsed in the private sector over the past 30 years, from 33 percent of the workforce to 15 percent, it has remained buoyant in the public sector. Today, more than 35 percent of public employees are unionized, compared with only 11 percent in 1960.
The role of public employee unions in our political life has been growing. "We just won an election," labor boss Andy Stern declared two years ago, at about the time Barack Obama was taking the oath of office and the union movement was giving itself much of the credit for his victory. After spending some $450 million to elect Obama and other Democrats, labor was indeed riding high. Teachers alone accounted for a tenth of the delegates to the Democratic convention in 2008.
All too often, states The Economist:
Politicians have repeatedly given in, usually sneakily - by swelling pensions, adding yet more holidays or dropping reforms, rather than by increasing pay. Too many state workers can retire in their mid-50s on close to full pay. America's states have as much as $5 trillion in unfunded pensions liabilities. . . . Sixty-five should be a minimum age for retirement for people who spend their lives in classrooms and offices; and new civil servants should be switched to defined contribution pensions.
Another Battleground, reports The Economist, will be
. . . the unions' legal privileges. It is not that long since politicians of all persuasions were uncomfortable with the idea of government workers joining unions. (Franklin Roosevelt opposed this on the grounds that public servants have "special relations" and "special obligations" to the government and the rest of the public.) It would be perverse to ban public sector unions outright at a time when governments are trying to make public services more like private ones. But their right to strike should be more tightly limited; and the rules governing political donations and even unionization itself should be changed to "opt-in" ones, in which a member decides whether to give or join.
There are now more American workers in unions in the public sector (7.6 million) than in the private sector (7 million), although the private sector employs five times as many people. In fact, union density is now higher in the public sector than it was in the private sector in the 1950s.
Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was the most frequent guest at the White House in the first six months of the Obama administration. Public-sector unions, as providers of vital monopoly services, can close down entire cities. As powerful political machines, they can help pick the people who are on the other side of the bargaining table. David DiSalvo, writing in National Affairs, points out that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was the biggest contributor to the political campaigns in 1989-2004. He also notes that such influence is more decisive in local campaigns, where turnout is low, than in national ones.
Evidence from the American Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that public-sector unions have used their power to extract a wage premium: public-sector workers earn, on average, a third more than their private-sector counterparts. At the same time, governments give their workers generous pensions, which do not have to come out of current budgets. Many public employees also game the system. Eighty-two percent of senior California Highway Patrol officers, for example, discover a disabling injury about a year before they retire.
Unions have also made it almost impossible to remove incompetent workers. Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer, says that "getting rid of a problem teacher can make the O. J. Simpson trial look like a cake-walk." In 2000-10 the Los Angeles school district spent $3.5 million trying to get rid of seven of its 33,000 teachers, and succeeded with only five.
Newly elected governors - both Republicans and Democrats - are focusing their attention on public-sector unions. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, is promising to use "every legal means" to weaken the bargaining power of state workers - including decertification of the public employees' union. Ohio's new governor, Republican John Kasich, wants to end the rule that requires nonunion contractors to pay union wages, and is targeting the right of public employees to strike.
Even in states where Democrats remain in power, unions are under the gun. New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo intends to freeze the salaries of the state's 190,000 government workers, and has promised to tighten the budget belt when public union contracts are renegotiated this year. In California, Governor Jerry Brown, who gave public employees the right to unionize when he was governor in the 1970s, now speaks about the unsustainable drain that union pensions and health benefits are on the state's budget.
Things in the states are so bad that, in the case of Arizona, it has sold several state buildings - including the tower in which the governor has her office - for a $735 million upfront payment. But leasing back the building over the next 20 years will ultimately cost taxpayers an extra $400 million in interest. Many states are delaying payments to their pension funds, which eventually need to be made. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie deferred paying the $3.1 billion that was due to the pension funds in 2010.
The role of our public employee unions in leading our states and cities to insolvency has not been properly examined. It is high time that it was.
Up from the Projects: The Life of Walter E. Williams
Walter Williams has had a distinguished career - as an economist, author, columnist, teacher, and sometime radio and television personality. As a black advocate of the free market and a genuinely color-blind society, he has often come under bitter attack. Now 74, he has decided to tell the story of his life.
"What I've done, said, and written, and the positions I have taken challenging conventional wisdom," he writes
. . . have angered and threatened the agendas of many people. I've always given little thought to the possibility of offending critics and contravening political correctness and have called things as I have seen them. With so many "revisionist historians" around, it's worthwhile for me to set the record straight about my past and, in the process, discuss some of the general past, particularly as it relates to ordinary black people.
He recalls an angry response that former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Patricia Roberts Harris, wrote in response to a two-part series, "Blacker Than Thou," by another black conservative economist and good friend, Thomas Sowell, in The Washington Post in 1981. Assessing his criticism of black civil rights leaders, Harris said, "People like Sowell and Williams are middle class. They don't know what it is to be poor."
This assessment, however, is completely false. Williams notes that:
Both Sowell and I were born into poor families, as were most blacks who are now as old as we are. . . . While starting out poor, my life, like that of so many other Americans, both black and white, illustrates one of the many great things about our country: just because you know where a person ended up in life doesn't mean you know with any certainty where he began. . . . Unlike so many other societies around the world, in this country, one needn't start out at, or anywhere near, the top to eventually reach it. That's the kind of economic mobility that is the envy of the world. It helps explain why the number one destination of people around the world, if they could have their way, would be America.
Williams describes his humble beginnings, growing up in a lower middle-class, predominantly black neighborhood in West Philadelphia in the 1940s, raised by a strong and demanding single mother with high academic aspirations for her children. He recalls the teachers in middle school and high school who influenced him - teachers who gave him an honest assessment of his learning and accepted no excuses. In discussing his army experience, he recounts incidents of racial discrimination but stresses that his time in the army was a valuable part of his maturation process.
Growing up in the Richard Allen housing project, he remembers that:
Grocery, drug, and clothing stores lined Poplar between 10th and 13th streets. . . . Most of the grocery stores had unattended stands set up outside for fruits and vegetables - with little concern about theft. Often customers would select their fruits and vegetables and take them into the store to be weighed and paid for. . . . There was nothing particularly notable about a thriving business community in black neighborhoods, except that it would one day virtually disappear due to high crime and the 1960s riots. Such a disappearance had at least several results: in order to shop, today's poor residents must travel longer distances . . . and bear that expense; high crime costs reduce incentives for either a black or white business to locate in these neighborhoods. . . .
The absence of shops and other businesses, writes Williams:
. . . also reduces work opportunities for residents. One of my after-school and weekend jobs was to work at Sam Raboy's grocery store. . . . I waited on customers, delivered orders, stocked shelves and cleaned up. Other stores hired other young people to do the same kind of work.
After high school Williams joined his father in Los Angeles and enrolled at Los Angeles City College. Following Army service, including time in Korea, and his marriage to Connie - a major force in his life - in February 1962 he enrolled as a full-time student at California State College in Los Angeles, originally majoring in sociology. In the summer of 1965, after shifting to economics, Williams graduated from California State and was encouraged by professors to consider graduate school. He was admitted to UCLA, worked at night for the county probation department, and decided to pursue his Ph.D.
Initially, Williams failed in economic theory. He notes that:
I later realized this did have a benefit. It convinced me that UCLA professors didn't care anything about my race; they'd flunk me just as they'd flunk anyone else who didn't make the grade. The treatment reassured me in terms of my credentials.
After completing his Ph.D. examinations, he was offered a full-time tenure-track assistant professorship at Cal State. "Sometimes," Williams writes:
I sarcastically, perhaps cynically, say that I'm glad that I received virtually all of my education before it became fashionable for white people to like black people. By that I mean that I encountered back then a more honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Professors didn't hesitate to criticize me - sometimes even to the point of saying, "That's nonsense, Williams."
In those years, Williams' political views were liberal. In 1964, he voted for Lyndon Johnson. He believed that higher minimum wages were the way to help poor people. "That political attitude," he writes:
. . . endured until I had a conversation with a UCLA professor (it might have been Armen Alchian) who asked me whether I most cared about the intentions behind a higher minimum wage or its effects. If I was concerned about the effects, he said, I should read studies by Chicago University Professor Yal Brozen and others about the devastating effects of the minimum wage on employment opportunities for minimally skilled workers. I probably became a libertarian through exposure to tough-minded professors who encouraged me to think with my brain instead of my heart.
It was Williams' desire
. . . to share my conviction that personal liberty, along with free markets, is morally superior to other forms of human organization. The most effective means of getting them to share it is to give them the tools to be rigorous, tough-minded thinkers.
Being a black professor, he reports:
. . . led to calls to become involved with the campus concerns of black students. They invited me to attend meetings of the Black Student Union. I tried to provide guidance with regard to some of the BSU's demands, such as black studies programs and an increase in the number of black faculty. As I was to do later at Temple University, I offered tutorial services for students having trouble in math. One of my efforts that fell mostly on deaf ears was an attempt to persuade black students that the most appropriate use of their time as students was to learn their subject as opposed to pursuing a political agenda.
Walter Williams' academic career began with teaching one class a week at Los Angeles City College to eventually holding the department chairmanship at George Mason University. He tells of his long friendship with economist Thomas Sowell and with J. A. Parker, president of the Lincoln Institute, with which Williams has been associated for many years. He reports of his time at the Urban Institute and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, as well as his frequent testimony before Congress on issues ranging from the minimum wage to the negative effects of the Davis-Bacon Act. He was a member of the Reagan administration's transition team at the Department of Labor, but following the advice of economist Milton Friedman declined a position in the administration so that he could remain in his academic position where he could speak his mind freely.
The attacks upon black conservatives, which he cites, were often bitter. NAACP General Counsel Thomas Atkins, upon hearing that President Reagan was considering appointing Thomas Sowell as head of the Council of Economic Advisers, declared that Sowell "would play the same kind of role which historically house niggers played for the plantation owners." Syndicated columnist Carl Rowan said "If you give Thomas (Sowell) a little flour on his face, you'd think you had (former Ku Klux Klan leader) David Duke." NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks called black conservatives "a new breed of Uncle Tom and some of the biggest liars the world ever saw."
Williams has much to say about what he calls "prevailing racial dogma." One element of that dogma asserts that "black role models in teaching are necessary to raise black achievement, instill pride, and offset the effects of our legacy of slavery and subsequent discrimination." But, Williams argues, his own life is a refutation of that notion:
Attending predominantly black junior high and high schools, and graduating from the latter in 1954, I recall having no more than two, possibly three, black teachers. . . . Nonetheless, many of my classmates, who grew up in the Richard Allen housing project and with whom I've kept up over the years, managed to become middle-class adults; and one, Bill Cosby, became a multi-millionaire. Our role models were primarily our parents and family; any teachers who also served in that role were white, not black.
Every few years, former Richard Allen residents hold a reunion. "I've asked some of my friends," Williams writes:
. . . and ex-schoolmates whether they recall any of our peers who couldn't read or write well enough to fill out a job application or who spoke the poor language that's often heard today among black youngsters, The answer is they don't remember anyone doing either. Yet in 2005, at my high school alma mater, Benjamin Franklin, only 4 percent of eleventh grade students scored "proficient" and above in reading, 12 percent in writing, and 1 percent in math. Today's Philadelphia school system includes a high percentage of black teachers and black administrators, but academic achievement is a shadow of what it was yesteryear. If the dogma about role models had any substance, the opposite should be the case.
Throughout this book, Williams refers to the immeasurable contribution of his wife of 48 years, who shared his vision through hard work and love. He leaves the reader with a bit of advice passed on by his stepfather: A lot of life is luck and chance and you never know when the opportunity train is going to come along. Be packed and ready to hop on board.
Walther Williams has lived a singular American life. This book deserves widespread recognition as a record of that life. And he is still teaching economics and, hopefully, will be doing so for many years to come,
A Thoughtful Look at Christianity as the Lifeblood of the American Society
When we look to the earliest days of the American society and seek to discover the beliefs and worldview which animated the Founders, we must carefully consider the role of religion.
In a thoughtful new book, Christianity: Lifeblood of America's Free Society (1620-1945) , Dr. John Howard argues that it was Christianity that was the dominant influence in the development of the American nation and the American society.
John Howard has had a distinguished career. After service in the First Infantry in World War II, he returned with two silver stars, two purple hearts, and a commitment to use his career to sustain and strengthen America's religious ideals. In the Eisenhower Administration, he headed the first program using government contracts to open jobs for qualified minority applicants. Dr. Howard served as president of Rockford College for seventeen years and as the national president of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities for three years. Currently, he is a Senior Fellow at the Howard Center on Family, Religion, and Society. In the 2007 national contest for speechwriters sponsored by Vital Speeches and The Executive Speaker, John Howard's "Liberty Revisited" received the Grand Award as the best speech submitted in any of the 27 categories.
Sadly, at the present time, America's religious history is largely unknown. The review provided by Dr. Howard is instructive.
After the Plymouth colony was established, the number of settlers coming from England increased rapidly. In 1630, five ships with 900 passengers arrived to start the Massachusetts Bay colony with John Winthrop as governor. During a two-month voyage, Winthrop preached a long sermon entitled "A Model of Christian Charity." He set forth the tenets of Jesus' teaching that should be applied in the daily living of the new colonies.
His concluding instructions included the following:
The end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord. . . . We are entered into a covenant with Him to do this work. . . . We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. . . . We must delight in each other, make others' condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor together and suffer together . . . so shall we keep the unity of spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us. . . . We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.
In ten years, the population of the Massachusetts Bay colony swelled to 16,000. Dr. Howard notes that:
It was recognized that schools as well as churches were essential to the Christian well-being of the society. In 1636, the Massachusetts legislature authorized the establishment of a college, and two years later Harvard College enrolled students. The purpose was "to train a literate clergy." . . . For many years, most of the Congregational Ministers in New England were Harvard graduates. . . . It is not surprising that the first English language book published in North America was religious. The Whole Book of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Meter appeared in 1640. It was so much in demand that there were twenty editions of it and seventy printings.
During the 18th century, a number of powerful preachers influenced the American society - among them Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and George Whitfield. Whitfield, an Englishman, is acknowledged as the most powerful influence in spreading the Great Awakening of that time. He had a great dramatic flare that brought people from long distances to hear him. The crowds grew until he was preaching to over 30,000 people at once, with no amplification. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography "he was able to hear his voice nearly a mile away." The two men became close friends and Franklin built a huge auditorium in Philadelphia to accommodate his revival meetings. The edifice later became the first building of the University of Pennsylvania.
"During the three-quarters of a century leading up to the Revolutionary War," writes Howard:
. . . the church services, revival meetings, and religious encampments were the primary social events in the lives of the colonists. . . . Many of the foremost clergy were instrumental in convincing the colonists that the revolution was necessary and just.
The people of a self-governing republic or democracy must, said Montesquieu, be virtuous, or that form of government cannot operate. In his inaugural address on April 30, 1789, George Washington stressed the need for honorable and conscientious citizens. "Like the other Founding Fathers," writes Howard:
Washington knew . . . that the people of a self-governing republic must be virtuous for that form of government to operate successfully and was keenly committed to do everything he could to help Americans measure up to the standards of virtue required for a self-governing republic. Rectitude and patriotism, he declared, keep the acts of government fair and just and free of the damage caused by party politics. Rectitude and patriotism will also assure that "national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality. . . . There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid reward of prosperity and felicity. . . ."
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the U.S. in 1831, he was amazed by the religious character of the people and impact Christianity had on the systems and institutions of the society. In Democracy in America he writes that:
By their practice Americans show that they feel the urgent necessity to instill morality into democracy by means of religion. What they think of themselves in this respect enshrines a truth that should penetrate into the consciousness of every democratic nation.
De Tocqueville marveled that the different denominations were in comfortable agreement about teaching morality:
There is an innumerable multitude of sects in the United States. They are all different in the worship they offer to the Creator, but all agree concerning the duties of men to one another . . . all preach the same morality in the name of God. . . .
The historian Paul Johnson observes that this denominational unity about teaching morality was even broader. It was
. . . a consensus which even non-Christians, deists, and rationalists could share. Non-Christianity, preeminently including Judaism, could thus be accommodated within the framework of Christianity. Both Catholicism and Judaism became heavily influenced by the moral assumptions of American Protestantism because both accepted its premise that religion (meaning morality) was essential to democratic institutions.
In the post-World War II years, Dr. Howard shows, the influence of religion upon the American society has been in decline. In 1988, after a number of highly placed graduates of Harvard and other elite universities engaged in a variety of less than honorable behavior, Harvard president Derek Bok published a long essay in Harvard Magazine. He provided a summary of Harvard's transition from being an instrument of the Christian church to a modern intellectual and research center, free of any coordinated effort to teach Christian or any other morality to the student body.
Until this century, education throughout history not only sought to build the character of their students, they made this task their central responsibility. . . . These tendencies continued strongly into the 19th century.
During the 20th century, he notes:
First artists and intellectuals, then broader segments of society, challenged every convention, every prohibition, every regulation that cramped the human spirit and blocked its appetites and ambitions.
In 1954, Robert Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, noted that:
The pedagogical problem is how to use the educational system to form the kind of man that the country wants to produce. But in the absence of a clear ideal, and one that is attainable through education, the pedagogical problem is unsolvable; it cannot even be stated. The loss of an intelligible ideal lies at the root of the troubles of American education.
John Howard concludes his book with a quote from James Russell Lowell, author, poet, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and U.S. ambassador to Spain from 1877 to 1880, and then to Great Britain. The French historian Francois Guizot once asked Lowell, "How long will the American Republic endure?" Lowell replied, "As long as the ideas of the men who founded it remain dominant."
John Howard hopes that we can recapture those ideas. He has performed a notable service with his important review of the role religion has played in the development of our country - and can play once again. *