If you are one of the folks who voted for Barack Obama in the last election, what did you vote for? More generally, if you voted for any liberal politician, what did you vote for?
Here are three things for starters: (1) no reform of the public schools, (2) no reform of the welfare system, and (3) no reform of labor market institutions that erect barriers between new entrants and good jobs.
How can I be so certain? Because the teachers unions, the welfare bureaucracy and all the other unions form the base of the Democratic Party. At least they are the base of the liberal wing of the party.
Here are three more things you voted for: (1) no reform of the tax system, (2) no reform of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements, and (3) no serious effort to deal with mounting deficit spending and ever-increasing national debt.
How do I know these three things? Because that is essentially the position of every liberal who has had anything to say about the Fiscal Cliff. It is also the position of liberal commentators — including Paul Krugman and the editorial pages of The New York Times.
As is patently obvious, the single biggest obstacles to school reform are the teachers unions. They view the school system as a jobs program more than a place where children learn. The unions have resisted virtually any and all reforms that would get bad teachers out of the classrooms, reward teachers based on merit and reward schools based on success. Most importantly, they are adamantly opposed to school choice: allowing poor students at failing schools to escape and go to better ones.
Almost a half century ago, southern racists politicians stood in the school house door and told black children they could not enter. Today, it is liberal politicians who are trying to keep poor children (often minority children) out of the schools their parents want them to attend. In fact, in Washington D.C., liberal politicians are trying to keep poor, minority children out of the very same schools they send their own children to!
Having fronted for the resistance to school improvement (the only long-term avenue to self-betterment), these same politicians are vigorous defenders of a welfare system that encourages and subsidizes dependency. In fact, most of them would like to undo the welfare reforms that President Clinton signed into law.
Then there are the other labor unions. As I have written before (see here and here), a union is an attempt to monopolize the supply of labor. That never works unless you can keep out the "scabs," which consists of everyone else. The union agenda also includes opposition to a lower minimum wage for teenagers (the black youth unemployment rate is 39%), opposition to a bracero program for immigrant labor and support for all kinds of occupational licensing — raising barriers to entry into almost every profession and trade.
Why do you think Barack Obama condemned the Michigan vote to install right to work? Because that weakens unions. But why is that bad? Granted, unions use their dues money to contribute to the election campaigns of Obama and other liberals. But what is the social reason to support unions? There isn't any. Since unions are trying to achieve above-market wages and thus raise prices for everybody (including poor families), and since they can accomplish this goal only by keeping non-union workers from having access to the workplace, what's good for a union is bad for everybody who isn't in the union. And what's bad for a union is good for everybody else.
Bottom line: the first three policies you voted for mean that those on the bottom rung of the income ladder are not going to get a helping hand to get on a higher rung. As far as those with the least income and wealth are concerned, you voted for status quo all the way. And to rub salt in the wound, the very people you voted for will be telling the world at every opportunity how much they care about the poor — even as they do everything to impede their economic mobility!
The second set of policies you voted for adds up to another bottom line: with respect to the nation's fiscal health, you voted again for status quo all the way. There is no mystery about the problem we face. We've promised more than we can afford. According to the Congressional Budget Office, if we continue on the path we are on the federal government will need to collect two-thirds of the income of the middle class and more than 90% of the income of high-income families by mid-century.
Yet, despite the fact that liberal politicians claim we have a revenue problem, not a spending problem, they have been unwilling to even talk about how they plan to collect the revenue needed to pay for every spending program they support. Unwilling to make any fundamental reform to any of our major entitlement spending programs and unwilling to commit to huge tax increases (including a large tax increase for the middle class), they have implicitly endorsed the unthinkable: federal debt escalating forever.
I haven't said anything about health care. That's because when you voted for a liberal politician, it's not clear what you voted for. That's because when Democrats voted for ObamaCare, it's not clear that any of them knew what they were voting for.
I'll save health care for another day.
John C. Goodman is President and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, and author of the acclaimed book, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the "Father of Health Savings Accounts." He is also the Kellye Wright Fellow in health care. The mission of the Wright Fellowship is to promote a more patient-centered, consumer-driven health care system.
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