David Brooks is wrong about public-sector unions:
In Wisconsin and elsewhere, state-union relations are structurally out of whack.
That’s because public sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.
This doesn't hold up to much scrutiny. First, taxpayers may foot the bill, but they are ultimately not the employer in the government/worker relationship, any more than customers are the employer in the business/worker relationship. That role goes to the state bureaucracies, and they face pressures that aren't dissimilar to the pressures faced by private-sector employers. Most states have balanced-budget requirements and work with incentives to cut costs, as a means to lower taxes and continue services for taxpayers.
As such, the interests of government managers -- who need to deliver services at lower costs -- are at wide cross-section to the interest of government workers. Like their private-sector counterparts, public-sector unions pressure employers to consider worker interests, and account for them when necessary. Otherwise, governments -- like businesses -- are free to cut pay, increase hours, and generally place worker interests at the wayside. You may not like this, but it's completely legitimate.
One last point: Brooks includes this to criticize Gov. Scott Walker, but it's still obscene:
Getting state and federal budgets under control will take decades. It will require varied, multipronged approaches, supported by broad and shifting coalitions. It’s really important that we establish an unwritten austerity constitution: a set of practices that will help us cut effectively now and in the future.
The foundation of this unwritten constitution has to be this principle: make everybody hurt. The cuts have to be spread more or less equitably among as many groups as possible.
David Brooks, who lives surrounded by wealth, is a well-compensated writer for the world's leading English-language newspaper. He has intellectually fulfilling work and in all likelihood, won't retire for a very long time. But when he does, he'll have plenty of disposable income and won't have to worry about food, medicine, or shelter.
In a world where wealth flows to the wealthy, how will he hurt? When we break public-sector unions, slash Social Security benefits, and cap Medicare, how will David Brooks -- or anyone like him -- suffer? The easy answer, of course, is they won't. Austerity will hurt the teacher who needs to support a family on $48,000, or the 67-year-old janitor who wants to retire but can't, because she needs as much as she can to support her disabled husband. It will never touch the lawmakers who pass these cuts, the CEOs who fund the lawmakers, the bankers who nearly destroyed the economy, and the columnists who cheer them on as "responsible." The rich will never hurt. But everybody else will.