No Cute Title, just three serious points about Wisconsin

I was reading an article about the Wisconsin goings-on. As always, I’m woefully uninformed about the details, though one of my friends who is, assures me that the republican governor Scott Walker is royally screwing everyone. I have no comment on that front.

But there are three lessons though that one can get from this without taking a stand on the moral probity of republicans or their leader in this little drama: Scott Walker.


The first comes from Matt Yglesias, who says (and I agree with him) that labor unions have a lot of power and perhaps we don’t need to be concerned that they can’t look after themselves. In fact, I think he thinks (and again I would agree) that labor unions (particularly public sector labor unions) funnel a lot of yummy pork their way without contributing to the benefit of our governments. They also have a huge amount of political power and so can probably, in general look out for themselves. So, in Wisconsin, they’re losing some of their ridiculous perks. Boo Hoo. Don’t get me wrong, I get the impression that Scott Walker is a kind of an angry vigilante with the wrong motives, but I’m just saying I’m not really that sad to hear that some of the benefits for public sector unionists are getting cut.

Yglesias is smart and he knows all this, but nonetheless, the post I cited is somehow about how its wrong to think that corporations don’t also control everything with their clout. Ok fine, but what does that have to do anything? Yea, it would be bad if all the cuts to the union wages went straight to more subsidies for corporations or whatever, but what does that have to do with the wisdom of cuts? If these unions are soaking up public benefits, then cutting them would be good, regardless of what other stupid things government does.

Another way to put the point is this: what are the arguments in favor of not cutting benefits to public sector labor unions?


Next, there is a point about deliberative democracy, something I believe very strongly in. The idea of deliberative democracy is that the purpose and value of democracy does not come simply from its AGGREGATION procedure. In other words, democracy gains its usefulness to us not simply from giving us “majority-rule” which is a numeric procedure used to decide between competing policies. On this purely aggregative notion, democracy is merely a power-allocating system. It allocates power to those who gain the most votes.

Deliberative democracy however says that the point of democracy is PARTIALLY to enhance the understanding and rational capabilities of its participants. So to give a short summary of the idea: democracy is not meant to simply decide who gets to pass laws, but also to convince those who get to pass laws to pass good ones and to help those who don’t get to pass laws understand why certain laws are getting passed. Democracy is for elevating, purifying, spiritualizing, refining, enhancing, and building preferences, not just for deciding whose un-elevated, un-spiritualized, un-enhanced, preferences get to reign supreme.

One way our constitution respects this is by not just allowing congress to vote impeach the president (using pure numbers, as it were, to stop the prez) but by allowing congress to INVESTIGATE the prez and thereby thwart his goals by exposing them, clarifying them, or calling attention to them. The public gains as the president loses, where in impeachment, the public may not become more enlightened, though a misguided president may be ousted.

But then we can see that the Democrats fleeing the Wisconsin Senate is a strike against deliberative democracy. Why? Because they are refusing to represent the voice of those (presumably a minority) who disagree with Gov. Walker. But let me be careful. By fleeing, these democrats are representing the PREFERENCE of these few — those who were outvoted in the last election and now find their outrage impotent — but not their VOICES, and the reason is that these deputies of the people are not voicing the arguments in favor of not union busting. They are not giving expression to the rational bases for being opposed (whatever those are) to cutting union benefits and bargaining rights.

By refusing to engage the majority who won in a fair election, these Democrats are doing damage to the democratic process, even though they are simultaneously serving the preferences of their constituents.

I’ll put it one final, but still metaphorical way. These democrats are amplifying the power of their constituents, but are silencing their voices.


There is the prank call from someone pretending to be David Koch. Apparently, Walker picked up the phone and spoke to this actor/prankster for a few minutes before realizing the gig. I think, as a theorist always looking for data points and examples, is a fantastic way of showing the power of humor.

As I wrote elsewhere humor has  a special role to play in political systems, and this shows it well. A simple joke here has an ability to CUT THROUGH argument, rhetoric, emotions, and even protests to FRAME the issue in a certain way. I’m not saying this way is right (in fact I don’t think that its that bad, IN ITSELF, to cut benefits to unions, though I agree that Walker seems extreme and a little crazy), but the power here is undeniable. Humor can CHANGE THE WHOLE GAME and make us see the situation in a completely new light, namely, as one in which a vengeful conservative conspires with capital to squash the hopes of labor.

Further study of how this joke plays out would be a goldmine of insights I think to sociologists and anthropologists (amateur or professional).


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