Over a year ago, in mid-April 2011, a coffee acquaintance, a generation ‘south’ of me in age, asked me a question.
As a second job, he’s long been a local volunteer fireman. One of his duties was to handle his units retirement investment fund. Apparently their fund was not doing well – they were getting virtually no return on investment.
He knew I’d been involved in education and teacher unions, and at the time there was rage against teacher unions and teacher pensions, especially across the border in Wisconsin. The essence of his obvious questions were framed in a manner you can detect in an instant: “who do they think they are?”; “how can they have such good pensions when mine is so bad?”
I’m not sure what he expected me to do: to grovel and beg forgiveness? For starters, I knew little or nothing about Wisconsin teacher pension history, policy or law. I’d never lived or worked there.
But he didn’t know two things about me: first, that I not only grew up in the family of two career school teachers, and had all of their one year contracts, and know the general how’s and why’s of teacher pensions, including their history; second, that I had just been at a national conference of retired teachers where, understandably, a major topic of discussion was the status of teacher pensions nationwide.
But in such situations as our conversation, there is no room for argument.
I did tell him I had a document at home that might be useful for him, and indeed I had such a document which I had picked up at the conference. It is here: Pensions 2011001. It speaks clearly for itself.
A few days later, I gave his Dad an envelope with the document, and that is the last I heard from the man about the topic, though I continue to see him from time to time.
My document, plus a note to him about the reality about how teacher pensions came to be and are funded, apparently did not fit his particular bias, which was that teachers were abusing the system with plush pensions provided, of course, by gullible taxpayers.
He (and doubtless many others) were stuck in first gear on the issue: teachers had something they didn’t, or at least didn’t have quite as abundantly, and somehow that was wrong.
What he was articulating, in my opinion, was ginned up resentment of others in his economic class who were doing better than he, and even worse, that these were public employees who were also union members (as if volunteer firemen were not public employees or organized – as his group certainly was).
Over and over again I have seen this dynamic in play as the rich and powerful fashion sound bites and literature pieces to prove that somebody, such as those teachers, are ripping off the system.
It isn’t true, of course, but that doesn’t matter. Neither does it matter that those employees in Wisconsin had likely deliberately, and over a long term, bargained away part of their short-term wages and benefits in favor of the longer term retirement benefits – really a prudent conservative trait (and I know teachers as basically being conservative). All that mattered is that they were a bit too uppity for “Public Servants”, and must get back in their proper subservient place as, literally, “public servants”.
Oddly, similar resentment does not seem to flow from middle and lower class to the aristocrat class. Somehow or other, there is admiration for wealthy, however that gain has been made.
It is really quite crazy making.
The poor and the middle class are in very large numbers defending the rich who, by and large, could care less about their less affluent brethren….
The plutocrats and oligarchs are badly outnumbered, and know it.
Their solution: endless media buys and incessant lies stoking resentment – person against person – over the coming months. In other words: “divide and conquer”.
The lesser folks – some call them the 99% – had best figure out some way to stick together and take the offensive, or the situation will only get worse, and all 100% of us will be adversely affected.
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