Monday, March 14, 2011

First Teachers, then Physicians?

If you view our governmental system as nothing more than a long protracted partisan war, I think the actions of Republicans make a lot of sense. Budgets need to be balanced, so why not make your political enemies foot the bill while letting allies off the hook? Teachers traditionally vote Democratic and their unions are a huge boon to Dem politics, so the GOP has come after them. I worry about this sort of 'trade warfare' as an American and as a future physician. I could be wrong, but my suspicion is that physicians as a group generally vote Republican. What if some hypothetical future extreme Democratic Party comes to power, looks at explosive health costs and deficits, notices that physicians support Republicans, and decide to punish us for it? They could simply block the medicare doc fix, or worse.

I resent the idea that one group should be faced with a disproportionate share of a social burden because they are on the losing side of politics. It is not unreasonable to expect sacrifice from public employees - and it looks like they were prepared to sacrifice in Wisconsin. At the same time, is gutting education spending the best way to secure our nation's long term prosperity? (If it was up to me, we'd cut teacher unions and tenure, but expand benefits and pay such as to make teaching jobs more competitive). There are more millionaires in New Jersey than teachers. There are other forms of public spending, including inefficient subsidies to various industries. There are of course costly entitlements, and the military. These dwarf our education spending in scale.

If Republicans are serious about improving our deficit situation, they need to do more than pay lip service to the notion of shared sacrifice. Focused partisan assaults on a few groups will never be accepted as fair. Any gains will be only temporary, and will simply be undone in the next electoral cycle. To make sustainable changes, changes that are accepted as fair by both political parties and thus not likely to be reversed, Republicans will need to cut government spending in all areas. They may have to injure some political allies in the process. That is the nature of compromise. Without mature leaders who were willing to compromise, our nation wouldn't exist; without them going forward, our nation won't exist.


emagers said...
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emagers said...

First, your aside about cutting teachers unions is both arrogant and puzzling. It is arrogant to assume, like many republicans, that collective bargaining rights can be "cut". This is like saying lets "cut" blacks ability to vote. Collective bargaining is a necessary institution in any mature democracy. Collective bargaining is often the catalyst for change rather than a political legislator--the contract has more ramifications than the law. Which leads us to our second point, the comment puzzles me because how are we to achieve "higher wages and benefits", both you believe will make the profession more "competitive", if not through union negotiation. If you expect political and economic power simply to be given away then you are sorely mistaken.
We should do what Sen. Ted Kennedy purposed and have the government pay for students graduate work if they agree to teaching 2 years in an underprivileged school. Thus recruiting some of our top minds into the classroom.

Nicholas said...

About collective bargaining rights, it was FDR who said they shouldn't extend to public employees, so I'll defer to him on that.

I will admit that the situation in a public labor market might be more complicated, but in general when you free up a labor market you benefit workers as much as employers. I have three points for how this could apply to teachers:

1. A more fluid labor market would allow high performing teachers to be recruited by other schools, with promise of higher wages or better benefits. Their home institution will be forced to pay them more to keep them in house.

2. Without tenure, low performing senior teachers who take up a ton of resources can be let go. Those dollars can go towards paying the other teachers more, hiring new teachers, et cetera.

3. I'm convinced that a big reason the American system lags is our relatively short school year and long summer break. If you lengthened the year and/or spread out the break, we might do better. Teachers would obviously be compensated for more work done. But I think the teacher unions in general have been an obstacle for these sorts of structural changes.