Taxpayers’ Future in Wisconsin Vote

April 12, 2012

by Chidem Kurdas

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is in the extremely unusual position of facing a recall vote less than two years after he was elected in 2010. The recall is orchestrated by unions that have gone all out to reverse his valiant effort to contain the growth in state and local spending. This vote has wide implications beyond the state of Wisconsin, implications for all government budget making and the question of  whether taxpayers can be protected at all against predatory interests.

Mr. Walker’s supposed crime is to be on the taxpayers’ side. He made state employees contribute more to their pension and health care costs – something private sector employees have done for a long time – and helped bring about a law that restricts collective bargaining for most state employees.

Obviously the public unions want to freely pick the taxpayer’s pocket as much as they like. Any official that opposes them faces a powerful threat—hence very few dare to oppose and taxpayers are robbed. Not only present but future generations are saddled with immense financial burdens, with public pension and health care liabilities ballooning everywhere.

At some point long-suffering citizens try to resist further encroachment on their pocketbook and then we have the impasse of deficits and potential insolvency of local governments. This also affects the federal government, which takes over the pensions of insolvent entities. Therefore taxpayers are nationally under threat, not just at the state and local levels.

The unions’ power is a classic case study in the economics of political choice. Unions are highly organized and concentrated interests. Public union leaders and members get large, immediate benefits from controlling the political system. Members are concentrated in the same workplaces and can be easily organized and taught to act as a collective body. They have all the incentive in the world to do so.

Hence they turn out in large numbers to protest Mr. Walker and wave their signs energetically for the media. Of course they signed the petition that led to his recall being put on the June ballot.

Taxpayers are victimized because they are hard to organize. There are multiple reasons for this. For one thing, taxpayers are many, diverse and dispersed, compared to public union members. Citizens have myriad other matters to attend to in their daily lives, in which politics is peripheral and therefore receives passing attention, if at all. And so the interest of the organized few trumps the well-being of the many. This is just one example of what the pioneers of public choice economics, James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock and Mancur Olson, showed decades ago.

Only when conditions get really bad, say when all the goodies past governments have given to public unions cause property taxes to go through the roof, do citizens as a body react. Such a reaction brought the Republican Mr. Walker to the Wisconsin governor’s office.

He has a good chance of staying there—the WSJ reported that a poll found him leading his potential Democratic opponents. But the struggle against the special interests of public unions is not just politically tough, it’s also long term.  No doubt this is one in a long series of skirmishes.

The battle has to be fought, difficult as it is.  Otherwise we’re all sitting ducks.

5 Responses to “Taxpayers’ Future in Wisconsin Vote”


  1. There’s an additional factor inspiring union hysteria that is not mentioned above — Governor Scott’s attack on mandatory membership in government unions and compulsory dues check-off. The unions not only oppress the state’s taxpapers; they also oppress their own members who are forced to pay for political agendas they may not support. For more on this factor see

    http://www.wisconsinreporter.com/commentary-closing-union-cash-flow-has-national-implications or equivalently http://tinyurl.com/3n53x8p

  2. chidemkurdas Says:

    Thanks for the link.
    I’d like to add another one. Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation have shown that many public employees are over-paid. See their piece in the WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304724404577295502528869614.html?


  3. “The recall is orchestrated by unions that have gone all out to reverse his valiant effort to contain the growth in state and local spending.”

    For regular readers of this blog, I’m sure this is “red meat.” The word, “unions,” stimulates some part of the libertarian brain with no intervening thought. Yet, one might ask, have the salaries of teachers, transportation workers, police, and firefighters been escalating beyond all bounds? That description seems a better fit for the incomes of the top 0.1%. But, of course, they earned it through free transactions and their own effort.

    “Mr. Walker’s supposed crime is to be on the taxpayers’ side. He made state employees contribute more to their pension and health care costs – something private sector employees have done for a long time – and helped bring about a law that restricts collective bargaining for most state employees.”

    In fact, most unions, including public unions in Wisconsin, don’t oppose increased contributions to pension and health care costs. They do, however, oppose restrictions on collective bargaining, which your “valiant” Mr. Walker didn’t campaign on, and which the majority of Wisconsin voters don’t support. By the way, do you regard the “valiant” Mr. Walker as the heir of J.S. Mill or Herbert Spencer?

    “Obviously the public unions want to freely pick the taxpayer’s pocket as much as they like. Any official that opposes them faces a powerful threat—hence very few dare to oppose and taxpayers are robbed.”

    “Obviously” . . . really, “Obviously”? Do you know any public school teachers? Do you think they think of nothing but how best “to pick the taxpayer’s pockets”?

    “The unions’ power is a classic case study in the economics of political choice. Unions are highly organized and concentrated interests. . . Taxpayers are victimized because they are hard to organize.”

    The Koch brothers are, presumably, “victimized” taxpayers. Do they find it hard to organize? I hope so, otherwise they may succeed in “reorganizing” CATO into a pure propaganda machine.

    “But the struggle against the special interests of public unions is not just politically tough, it’s also long term. No doubt this is one in a long series of skirmishes. . . The battle has to be fought, difficult as it is. Otherwise we’re all sitting ducks.”
    Suppose I’m an average employee/citizen/taxpayer. Should I be more worried about the power of public unions or the fact that the top 1% of income recipients has captured the lion’s share of total income growth over the last 25 years?

  4. video Says:

    The Koch brothers are, presumably, “victimized” taxpayers. Do they find it hard to organize? I hope so, otherwise they may succeed in “reorganizing” CATO into a pure propaganda machine.


  5. [...] his running mate, Wisconsin was in the national news as governor Scott Walker successfully fought a recall measure  orchestrated by unions opposed to his effort to contain the growth in state and local [...]


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