By: Chris Warren
As a young person I was taught to deal fairly and see things from the other guy’s perspective. Even when fairness was hard to define, I always knew in my heart what felt right. As I got older and developed a better understanding of how complex the world really is, it became apparent that sometimes true fairness cannot be attained. The best and perhaps only outcome is a degree of unfairness to be shared between the involved parties.
Recently, the city of Detroit, Michigan exited bankruptcy after what was arguably one of the largest and most famous financial collapses of modern times. Though the legal formalities are over, the bigger task will be making the second chance succeed and assuring those on the losing end of the deal –which is pretty much everyone– that their give backs will not be for nothing.
In Detroit’s case the losers are collectively out seven billion dollars. The biggest chunk of this loss is laid at the feet of public worker retirees, who are taking a cut to their monthly pension payouts as well as a cut in future raises. There’s no joy in seeing old people struggle, but keep in mind one of the key reasons Detroit is a financial shipwreck is because for decades the public sector unions pushed for and received lavish perks for city workers far better than what the average private taxpayer gets; these benefits continued into retirement. Public employees are not innocent bystanders.
In spite of years of court proceedings and thousands of pages of applicable law, the basic mechanics of the Detroit bankruptcy litigation were quite simple: Giving the retirees the deal they want means sticking the bill on someone else. And with liberal politics rotting Detroit’s population to less than half of what it was a generation ago, there aren’t too many “someone elses” left. A federal bailout makes the definition of a fair deal even more obscure because the cost would be passed along to people very far removed from the problem. How much should Joe Taxpayer in Seattle, Washington be expected to give up from his paycheck so Detroit can keep a promise to a retired city worker? And why should Joe care?
This untenable scenario is not unique to Detroit. Many other cities and some entire states are at a point where there is simply not enough money to pay for all the deferred promises. The public employee unions, famous for thinking they are better than everyone else, sincerely believe that the unworkable deals should be upheld no matter who it hurts. The attitude of entitlement has finally arrived at its ultimate conclusion, so let’s not misdirect too much pity toward current employees, retirees, and their slimy union. None of them are worrying about how Joe is going to pay for his Golden Years.
Applying my admittedly oversimplified vision of fairness to Detroit, I conclude that the shorted city employees do have a point, but I have a forced and limited sympathy for them. No private sector worker gets special protections and a guaranteed retirement, so the public workers (through the proxy of their union) must have quite a chip on their shoulder to think the taxpayers should remain in perpetual servitude to them. It’s not that the retirees are undeserving. It’s that they are no more deserving than all the rest of us.