"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, December 10, 2012

We Are All Michiganders Now

Herbert Stein once wrote, famously, that what can't continue, won't.   The ongoing, slow-motion collapse of the blue state model of government run by public-sector unions, private-sector unions, and their lackeys in the Democratic Party, is one such thing that can't continue, and therefore won't.   We can't afford it.   We can't afford the luxurious pensions for teachers and government bureaucrats, and companies can't afford to become benefit programs with productive enterprises as a sidebar.   General Motors died (it's a government-owned zombie now) when it became a retiree healthcare plan that only built cars as a hobby.  

Anyway, these thoughts arise from reading Paul Rahe on Michigan's Hail Mary pass to enact right to work legislation that might, just might, curtail the power of the unions:

Michigan was once a union stronghold -- the capital of an empire controlled by the United Auto Workers. The private-sector unions are now, however, no longer what they were. They have strangled industry.

Wherever I have gone in Michigan, I have heard stories of plants closing and of jobs disappearing. The collapse of the auto industry was merely the final coup de grace. Other industries -- and there were many of them -- withdrew or simply disappeared long before the arrival of the Great Recession. The unions and the Democratic machine associated with them have also destroyed Detroit. It was once the fourth largest city in the United States; it was once the nation's wealthiest city per capita. Now the median price of a house is $10,000, and, where there were once two million residents, there are now fewer than 700,000. The state is changing character. In the last decade, it has lost 10-15% of its population.

What I do not know is whether Michigan is ready to be a right-to-work state. Its becoming one would give one hope that it might have a future. Absent a major turn-around, it will continue on a path that will lead it to look like West Virginia in 1955. But what is needed is not always possible, and I find myself wondering whether -- in a state that firmly backed Barack Obama and Debbie Stabenow -- there will not be a ferocious reaction to what Rick Snyder and the Republicans are now doing. John Kasich and the Republicans in Ohio got a comeuppance not long ago when they passed a far less radical piece of legislation aimed at curbing public-sector union power (and that alone). Will Michigan explode? Will the unions strike back with powerful effect?

I do not know. But this I do know: If Snyder and the Republicans succeed -- if they are as successful with their endeavor as Scott Walker and the Republicans in Wisconsin have been with theirs -- it will shift the national balance. The unions may be entrenched in California, Illinois, and New York. Those states may be lost. They may have to face bankruptcy before they can make a comeback. But if Michigan can free itself from this albatross by its own efforts in the current environment, then, there is hope almost everywhere else. Things are going to get hot in Michigan. It is a state that bears close watching.

We are all Michiganders now.   Whether a cold financial civil war between the productive private citizens and the non-productive public sector and its union cronies can occur without a hot civil war eventually breaking out in riots and murder and mayhem... that remains to be seen.   History does not tell many tales of civilizations that, in the midst of decline and unraveling, managed to pull themselves back from the brink.

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