The Agenda

Megan McArdle is Refreshingly Sane on Wisconsin

Here is my favorite part of her post, which you should read in its entirety:

I’m not outraged by either side.  Of course the teachers would like to be paid more, contribute less to their pensions and health care, and be able to collectively bargain for their benefits.  One of the prime attractions of a career in K-12 teaching is that you can almost never be fired, and you have a powerful union that spends a lot of time lobbying the legislature.  Naturally, they are going to fiercely resist having this taken away after many of them have given a decade or two to a career based on this assumption.

On the other hand, of course the legislature needs to balance what the teachers want with the other needs of the state.  I am, as a matter of policy, against special tax breaks, so I agree that Wisconsin should not have spent $120 million on them.  But the actual targets–businesses that hire new employees, businesses that relocate to the state, and health savings accounts–are not prima facie morally inferior to allowing teachers to collectively bargain higher pensions and health benefits.  In fact, on average, they’re targeted towards groups that are worse off than the teachers–the unemployed, and people with high medical costs.  Overall, as a matter of policy, I would prefer to spend money on those people than on teachers who are fairly well paid for the number of days they work.  

Megan continues by arguing that a lockstep cap on teacher compensation is, on the other hand, a potentially very bad idea, and I agree. The right vision for public sector reform, for my money, is one in which public sector managers and workers are given more autonomy, but also more pay-for-performance to the extent that is practicable. 

Walker’s effort is not the last word on public sector reform. Rather, it is a law that might give state legislators and local officials the tools they need to actually do the hard work of making government cheaper and more effective. I will keep repeating this idea, as I fear it’s not getting through.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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