COMMENTARY: Entitlement Derangement Syndrome

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Imagine for a moment that you are a public school teacher in Wisconsin. While your job is undoubtedly tough (and important), and you're by no means rich, you do make decent money (more than $52,000 per year), and you do have some nice extra perks that most of us don't enjoy.

You work about nine months per year, you have ample additional time off for holidays, and you basically can't be fired. Sure, you can get fired for extreme misbehavior—after months and perhaps years of due process—but do you face the specter of the axe falling based on quarterly results or the loss of a client? Certainly not.

And you have your pension and health plan. Ahh, let us sing the sweet glories of your pension and health plan! Saps like me just have a 401k, and if I don't contribute to it, I don't have retirement benefits. But you? Your plan is extremely generous (how generous? Go and do a calculation), and you can even retire, with benefits, at age 55. As for your health plan, check it out. Add those benefits to your salary, and you're looking at an average total salary of more than $77,000 per year, making your individual compensation roughly 50 percent greater than the median household income in the state.

The problem of course is that all this costs money—lots of money—with the taxpayers shouldering that burden in a struggling economy. Moreover, the pension plan is short on money. To be precise: $10.9 billion dollars short, according to reports last year. Even worse, the taxpayers who pay for these magnificent plans have struggled with soaring unemployment and stagnant wages and tend to make less money than the public employees they support.

So the governor has proposed some modest reforms. He's proposing that state employees make retirement contributions at the national average and health insurance contributions at one-half the national average (up from roughly 25 percent). He's also proposing reforms that would give teachers a real choice as to whether they want to join the union.

It's understandable that teachers wouldn't like these changes. After all, they'll lose money. But does that justify the reaction? Does that justify near-riots in Madison, with protestors comparing the governor to Hitler, threats of violence, and intimidating protests at lawmakers' private residences? Does that justify fourteen Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state to prevent a vote on the governor's proposals?

While watching this public employee temper tantrum (complete with school closings so that teachers can attend the protests), I'm reminded of last October's French riots. For days, chaos gripped France as protestors surged into the streets by the hundreds of thousands. The fury was palpable as protestors blocked roads, battled with police, and waved their red union flags. The reason for their rage? The government's proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 (one of the world's lowest) to 62.

Welcome to the world of Entitlement Derangement Syndrome. In this world, the battle isn't about overthrowing tyranny or confronting the threat of hunger, poverty, or invasion. Instead, the battle is about comfort. It's about leisure. We will even stop doing our jobs—stop educating children—until our health insurance premiums are safe. We will follow politicians to their homes and pound our drums until we secure our generous pensions.

We want our pensions, dammit, and we want them now. We want what is ours, even if that means forcing others to pay for it.

There is a fundamental and negative cultural shift when individuals move from thinking they should keep the fruits of their own labor to believing they're entitled to the fruits of others' labor. Shutting down government for the sake of benefits you didn't pay for, and health insurance you didn't purchase, represents an entitlement mentality run amok.

Here's a sobering thought: Entitlement Derangement Syndrome is in its infancy. Wisconsin is paralyzed because of one reform impacting a small minority of its citizens. What happens when the axe falls — as, sooner or later, it must — on Social Security? On Medicare? If the unions can mobilize tens of thousands in Madison, can the entitlement culture muster millions in Washington?

I have a novel suggestion for Wisconsin's teachers: If the governor's reforms are so bad, if they burden you so much, quit your job and go find different employment. That's the kind of decision we face in the private sector. If enough of you quit, so that Wisconsin can't recruit enough teachers, you know what would happen? Wisconsin would raise teacher pay and benefits to compete. That's called the market, and it's a force the rest of us live with every day.
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February 18, 2011 at 9:13pm
February 19, 2011 at 8:20am
And all out attempt by Republicans to bust up unions and the power of collective bargaining. Happening in Tenn and other states that elected Republicans governors.

I have always felt teachers were for the most part, underpaid and under appreciated.

Be interested in hearing from the teachers in Cannon and what their take is on the Wisconsin and Haslam's activities.
February 19, 2011 at 3:26pm
So what you are saying daily is that it is ok for Democrats to require we all buy Health Care and pass a law that the majority of Americans didn't want and cause the deficit and the budget to grow at a faster rate in the history of the United States than it ever has, but it is wrong for the State of Wisconsin to demand that teachers pay more for their Health Care because the state faces bankruptcy if they don't.

That has to be the most hypocritical idea you have ever posted. What an absolute waste of space on the Courier website when you post something that ridiculous. It doesn’t even merit the time it took you to write it.
February 19, 2011 at 5:01pm
Wow, this was an intelligent, well-reasoned editorial. Where did this come from?
February 20, 2011 at 7:43am
"Be interested in hearing from the teachers in Cannon and what their take is on the Wisconsin and Haslam's activities."

daily, are you not equally interested in hearing from those citizens who are not government workers? Do you not think the fact that many of them earn less on average than government workers, pay more for benefits and don't have a pension, entitles them to a voice?
February 20, 2011 at 10:45am
I have taught in Cannon Co. for twenty years. I have never taken the insurance offered through my employer because myself and my family could always buy comparable coverage for much less through my husband's employers. My son recently had to make a job decision, use the education degree he earned and teach or take another offer from a nearby manufacturing business. Several factors played a role in his decision to take the later, salary and medical insurance for his family being two of those factors. The difference he would pay for medical insurance at the two jobs is significant. It is an estimated annual difference of $3,500, again only taking the insurance into consideration.
It is my hope that people posting opinions on this matter will investigate and give informed, educated opinions. Teachers in the state of Tennessee are paying for their medical benefits and depending on the county they teach in that dollar amount varies tremendously. I think it is safe to say teachers are not in the profession for the monetary benifits.
In the current economy, I am thankful to have a job. I have enjoyed teaching in the community I grew up in and my morning commute isn''t bad! However, I am also very grateful for my husband's job(also in manufacturing) and his much less expensive insurance benefits.
February 20, 2011 at 3:07pm
Ms. Melton I have not researched the State of Tennessee and the collective bargaining process that is currently being questioned here. So in that matter I will not comment until I do.

I have done some research in the Wisconsin ordeal just because it has become so large. From what I can gather about it is the state faces a HUGE deficit and is on the verge of bankruptcy without some major cuts in spending. Now I don't know if it is the right solution, but I do believe what they are doing is justified in trying to cut spending that has spiraled out of control.

My point in my earlier comment was the Democrats get the glory from people like dailyreader who on one hand decide the government has the right to force you and I to buy a health care plan under the new Health Care Law or face a monetary penalty, and on the other hand blame the Republicans for doing the same thing by removing the collective bargaining process for public employees in the State of Wisconsin.

Anyone who says they are for the new Health Care Law could not in my opinion say they were against what Wisconsin is doing. That by very definition is hypocritical.

As always, my upmost respect for you and all of the other teachers all over America. I hope you get your fair share in every endeavor.

I just hope everyone understands that we all can't get the same share.
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