Posts Tagged ‘Ezra Klein’

h1

Wisconsin matters, part 1

February 20, 2011

“For anyone interested in union rights, the fight in Wisconsin couldn’t be more important,” says Harvard’s Benjamin Sachs, as quoted in the New York Times. I know that not all readers of this blog are necessarily keeping up with the latest in labor news, and I feel this particular piece of labor news is crucially important. So a summary follows: not something we normally do here (we’re generally more predisposed towards analysis), but in this case, perhaps necessary.

While the world’s attention is rightfully focused on the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, the budget battle in D.C., the contentious showdown in Madison, Wisconsin over public employees’ unions deserves no small chunk of our time and energy. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is pushing a bill that would effectively strip public employees (except, in a naked political move, police and fire workers, who tended to support Walker’s bid for governorship) of their rights to collectively bargain, would make it much more difficult for public-employee unions to collect dues, and would require an annual vote just to keep a public-employee union in existence. Of course, this is being sold under the rhetoric that excessive public-employee compensation is at the root of state and local fiscal problems (not, you know, a worldwide economic crisis caused by out-of-control Wall Street bankers who, incidentally, are at very little risk of losing their jobs and benefits).

[Note: Ezra Klein has four posts that summarize the issues at hand extremely well. I recommend all of them.]

This is a thinly veiled attempt at union-busting, pure and simple; Wisconsin’s budget problems are a sideshow. Luckily, Wisconsin’s Democratic senators did a rare thing for Democrats in recent years; that is to say, they found their spines. The Republicans need 20 members present in the Senate for a quorum; without the Democrats, they have 19. The Democrats, knowing this, refused to show up to the Capitol, and ultimately fled the state after Walker asked the police to find them. In the meantime, thousands of workers, families, and other supporters have flooded the Capitol every day since Wednesdays to protest the bill.

Whether this gaming of the system on the part of the Democrats is justifiable is a relevant question. I, and many others, would argue that the Wisconsin fight is of huge importance for public-sector unions around the country, and by extension, for all of organized labor. If such an audacious attempt at destroying the institution of collective bargaining succeeds, the consequences will be enormous. If it fails in the face of massive popular protest and principled Democratic resistance, any subsequent attempts to undermine public-sector unions in the name of budget cuts will almost certainly be more moderated.

It is crucially important to be clear about one thing, addressed by the sign pictured above: it is not that public-sector employees in Wisconsin are refusing to take pay cuts and are raising hell because they are selfish and greedy. On the contrary, such employees are already living through pay cuts and furloughs. They’re raising hell not because Walker is attempting to take money from them; they’re raising hell because Walker is attempting to take their right to organize and bargain collectively from them. And the rest of us should be raising hell about that too.

Flying Whale

(note: photo above is by me; I traveled with Jonas to Madison today to show solidarity. more photos, and thoughts on our personal experiences there, to come.)

Advertisements
h1

Apparently, humans are idiots sometimes

April 7, 2010

I woke up this morning to discover Ezra Klein making a similar point to one in my last post about the classified US military video from WikiLeaks.  He’s writing about financial regulation, not war.  And he’s willing to call people idiots which I’m not.   But there is a conceptual link:

Larry Summers famously wrote — but sadly, did not publish — a paper that began with a timeless bit of wisdom: “THERE ARE IDIOTS,” Summers said. “Look around.” That paper was written decades ago. Maybe it’s time to finally publish it. Particularly that second line.

Like the poor, idiots will always be with us. In fact, we’ll frequently be among them. The seductions of group-think, the tendency to trust experts, the incentives for employees to go along with their bosses rather than contradict them and the need to deliver short-term profits even at the cost of long-term risk are more powerful than any regulation and will exist long after the visceral lessons of the subprime meltdown are gone.

So we’re left where Summers started: There are idiots. And if you look around, it turns out that they’re everywhere: In the banks, at the Federal Reserve, running the rating agencies, and selling mortgages. You can’t idiot-proof a system run by idiots.  But you can limit the damage they’re able to do.

And I think that’s part of what I was trying to articulate.  You can’t human-proof a system run by humans.  Rather than expecting our soldiers to be perfect super-humans, we should focus on minimizing how out-of-control their mistakes can become.

In this particular case, there was an opportunity to stop the massacre half-way by not firing on the evacuation van. Why didn’t that happen?

Ezra goes on to offer some thoughts on how we might limit the damage caused by failures in the financial sector.  I don’t know enough to propose parallel regulations and constraints for war.  But it still seems like a more productive response than some of my knee-jerk alternatives.

Jonas

h1

Two things to read

September 3, 2009

One short, one long.

Short: Ezra Klein on how the media covered only the health-care town hall meetings that turned into shouting matches. This goes hand-in-hand with the things we’ve posted here critiquing journalism strategies in general. Here’s one of the money quotes:

Ohio Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy said, “I think the media coverage has done a disservice by falling for a trick that you’d think experienced media hands wouldn’t fall for: allowing loud voices to distort the debate.”

On the contrary, Rep. Kilroy… doesn’t the media do that all the time?

Long: A Chicago Magazine article in which the author, a white victim of a violent crime committed by black juveniles, discusses with heartfelt nuance how race colored his thoughts and actions after the assault. Really think we live in a “post-racial” society? Read this.

I’ve wondered what argument I’d be making if the situation were reversed, if a group of white kids had done the same to a black man without uttering a word. I doubt I’d be stepping into the public melee to say, “Wait a minute—maybe these kids were race neutral and they just happened to choose a black guy today.” And that’s clearly racism on my part, an unwillingness to see everyone as equal.

And what if I’d been attacked by whites? I think I’d have been more outraged, more quick to judge, less likely to look for some meaning in the act. I’d have desired stiffer punishment than Larry got, assuming, perhaps wrongly, that my assailants had had more advantages to start with and so had traveled a greater distance across the moral scale. Is that fair? No.

Flying Whale