The little act that is destroying the country

In 1958, New York City mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. issued an executive order that permitted municipal employees to be represented by unions for collective bargaining.  This order came to be called the “little Wagner act,” not because it was insignificant (its effects would be vast), but because it followed the “big” Wagner act, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 authored by the mayor’s father, United States senator Robert F. Wagner, Sr.

When he became president, John Kennedy observed that Junior’s “little act” had revolutionized New York City politics.  Democrat officials and union leaders now shared an interest in lavishly spending public money on public salaries and pensions, which would circle back to the unions in the form of increased dues, and then back to the politicians themselves in the form of campaign contributions and advertising.  It was a virtuous circle in which all were winners, except the taxpayers who financed it.

With his Executive Order 10988 in 1962, President Kennedy imposed the “little Wagner act” on the entire country.  Now federal employees could join unions and negotiate wages, hours and overtime, vacations and holidays, work rules, and job security.  Other cities and states followed suit.  Politicians became entrenched with union support, the unions grew rich on Democrat largesse, the Democratic Party became the Party of Government, and the costs of operating government began to soar.

We’re still paying the consequences of that little act.  Our national debt doubles every eight years.  But no amount of money, it seems, is enough to improve the performance of employees who cannot be fired.  In recent years, we’ve learned of mind-numbing incompetence and spirit-sapping malfeasance by federal employees.  In “Fast and Furious,” the ATF sold guns to Mexican drug cartels – then lost track of them with predictable consequences.  Homeland Security failed to find 95% of smuggled weapons and explosives in a security test.  The EPA accidentally poisoned Colorado’s Animas River with three million gallons of toxic sludge.  The Department of Veterans Affairs wasted $6 billion on artwork, furniture, bloated contracts, and employee bonuses, while veterans died waiting for medical treatment.  Terrible tales of bungling have similarly tainted the CDC, the GSA, the IRS, the Pentagon, the Department of Justice, and the FBI, and even the Secret Service.

But nobody takes responsibility, nobody pays a price.  So when politicians tell us that some of us aren’t paying our “fair share,” and when we find out that we can’t dismiss even grossly incompetent “public servants,” well, that’s when our stomachs start to churn.

Our nation has other important problems: porous borders, a weak economy, and foreign threats.  We can solve those; we’ve solved much tougher problems in the past.  But we’ve never even addressed the silent civil war that now engages us: the battle between those who work in the demanding private sector and those whose privilege of regulating and monitoring the rest of us is lucrative and consequence-free.

This is, in large measure, why Donald Trump won the Republican nomination.  He can be rude, often blusters, speaks “off the cuff,” and doesn’t carefully choose his words.  But to those of us who have learned to distrust the rhetoric of career politicians, this is frosting.

That Trump is a successful businessman who knows how to say “You’re fired!” is the cake.

In 1958, New York City mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. issued an executive order that permitted municipal employees to be represented by unions for collective bargaining.  This order came to be called the “little Wagner act,” not because it was insignificant (its effects would be vast), but because it followed the “big” Wagner act, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 authored by the mayor’s father, United States senator Robert F. Wagner, Sr.

When he became president, John Kennedy observed that Junior’s “little act” had revolutionized New York City politics.  Democrat officials and union leaders now shared an interest in lavishly spending public money on public salaries and pensions, which would circle back to the unions in the form of increased dues, and then back to the politicians themselves in the form of campaign contributions and advertising.  It was a virtuous circle in which all were winners, except the taxpayers who financed it.

With his Executive Order 10988 in 1962, President Kennedy imposed the “little Wagner act” on the entire country.  Now federal employees could join unions and negotiate wages, hours and overtime, vacations and holidays, work rules, and job security.  Other cities and states followed suit.  Politicians became entrenched with union support, the unions grew rich on Democrat largesse, the Democratic Party became the Party of Government, and the costs of operating government began to soar.

We’re still paying the consequences of that little act.  Our national debt doubles every eight years.  But no amount of money, it seems, is enough to improve the performance of employees who cannot be fired.  In recent years, we’ve learned of mind-numbing incompetence and spirit-sapping malfeasance by federal employees.  In “Fast and Furious,” the ATF sold guns to Mexican drug cartels – then lost track of them with predictable consequences.  Homeland Security failed to find 95% of smuggled weapons and explosives in a security test.  The EPA accidentally poisoned Colorado’s Animas River with three million gallons of toxic sludge.  The Department of Veterans Affairs wasted $6 billion on artwork, furniture, bloated contracts, and employee bonuses, while veterans died waiting for medical treatment.  Terrible tales of bungling have similarly tainted the CDC, the GSA, the IRS, the Pentagon, the Department of Justice, and the FBI, and even the Secret Service.

But nobody takes responsibility, nobody pays a price.  So when politicians tell us that some of us aren’t paying our “fair share,” and when we find out that we can’t dismiss even grossly incompetent “public servants,” well, that’s when our stomachs start to churn.

Our nation has other important problems: porous borders, a weak economy, and foreign threats.  We can solve those; we’ve solved much tougher problems in the past.  But we’ve never even addressed the silent civil war that now engages us: the battle between those who work in the demanding private sector and those whose privilege of regulating and monitoring the rest of us is lucrative and consequence-free.

This is, in large measure, why Donald Trump won the Republican nomination.  He can be rude, often blusters, speaks “off the cuff,” and doesn’t carefully choose his words.  But to those of us who have learned to distrust the rhetoric of career politicians, this is frosting.

That Trump is a successful businessman who knows how to say “You’re fired!” is the cake.

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