Once upon a time, unions served an important purpose in this country. As labor laws proliferated and regulations grew in scope, conditions and pay improved and unions became increasingly less necessary.

Consequently, union membership has decreased dramatically over time, from an all-time high of 35 percent of the American work force in the 1950s, to 20% in 1983 and under 12 percent in 2010 – with the percentage of private sector workers in unions at only 6.9 percent, the lowest rate in over a century. In 2009, for the first time, government workers at either the local, state or federal level – what are known as “public employees” – accounted for over half the unionized workers in the United States. If there is any growth trend or potential, it is among the public employee unions (PEUs).

There is debate over the historic approval of the concept of PEUs by various prominent Americans, but it is absolutely the case that PEUs are structurally dissimilar to private industry unions and have evolved along a separate timeline.

In private industry, union workers negotiate compensation with company managers, and all are (theoretically) dependent upon the market – consumers – for their success. Labor and management ideally would need to work toward the common quality-based goals of providing a product or service that someone wants to pay for, and making the business profitable. If the business fails, they all go down.

With PEU’s, that entire notion of enforced quality goes out the window, because there are very few opportunities for consumers to “vote with their pocketbooks” regarding use of government-funded services or interaction with government bureaucrats, municipal employees, transit, safety or health workers, etc. In the very limited spheres where consumers can choose a private option, they very frequently do. Chief among these are the government school systems, where the decline of public confidence is a story in itself, for another day.

But more significantly than the lack of market accountability, PEU workers are funded not via the free choice of customers in the community, but through the very different mechanism of taxing them. When public employees demand more, they want to take it from taxpayers. When public employees strike, they strike against taxpayers. In fact, as a further insult inherent in the PEU monopoly status, taxpayers pay for the generous compensation packages of public employees who do nothing except union work while on the clock.

And because PEU compensation is funded out of the public till, the people with whom PEU members must negotiate directly – public officials – are also people who, directly or indirectly, must be elected to office. This brings about the scenario of candidates receiving financial and other forms of support from people whose compensation they help determine.

The end result – to make our long American story short – is highly compensated public workers whose quality of performance is irrelevant to said compensation, all to the benefit of a sector of elected officials and all to the detriment of U.S. taxpayers. PEUs are unaccountable, financed by taxpayers with whom they are in a fundamentally adversarial relationship, and to preserve this spoils system they take money from taxpayers and give it to public officials of one party who promise to protect and preserve the racket.

Click here for an excellent short history of public employee unions.

Click here for a “traditional” union man’s perspective on PEUs.

The funhouse world of PEUs

The many union management organizations are the ones who maintain and skim off the top of the taxpayer-funded troughs that sustain their members. From AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME, to teachers unions and others at the national level, and innumerable state-level groups – these are the point people whose political and marketing efforts drive the trend. They do the work that most Americans see, but often do not understand.

They are so good at what they do, barely anyone bats an eye when students clearly not over-educated are sent to a protest instead of to class for the day.

As with most sophisticated projects aimed at manipulating public opinion, the PEUs impose a new vocabulary to reframe the discussion. A universal theme in all union communications is the demand for “good jobs” for their members.

Translated in normal language, a union “good job” can be defined as:

Even if I choose to do nothing all day, my needs will be met.

Another union language trick requiring little education or intelligence once you get the hang of it consists in exaggerating, reversing or otherwise distorting cause and effect; e.g. cracking down on sick leave abuse by safety workers becomes “endangering public safety,” and blocking parent involvement in public schools is the tactic titled “to build effective partnerships with parents.”

Although, occasionally, someone does make a “gaffe” that reveals otherwise.

Public school teachers are universally labeled as “underpaid” when the truth is that’s not the case at all. And in many jurisdictions, they have the added advantage of job security for life.

Extrapolated to decades of persistence throughout the country, the end result of PEU “success” has been financial catastrophe. Everything PEUs touch, they turn to red ink. As with so many trends, to get an idea where the rest of us are headed, look at California. More here.

PEU-driven financial meltdowns became front-burner issues early in 2011 when Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other states attempted to rein in the appetites of union organizations.

You might remember the bizarre spectacle: Dubious sick notes for protesters. Death threats to lawmakers. Teachers making over $100,000 a year marching en masse, livid about the possibility of restrictions on their “good jobs.”

Small wonder PEUs are losing their appeal for the people who actually fund them.

A headlong rush into bankruptcy

The protests’ spread into Ohio provides a useful lesson in the rampant ignorance PEUs require to remain viable.

Data points regarding the Ohio protest:

Even if you take issue with the contention that public employee compensation is a major factor in Ohio’s crisis, you can’t argue Ohio is not in a crisis. And you must admit, further, that the crisis is: Balance sheets are in the red. Credits and debits are out of whack. State institutions cannot pay their bills.

Enter the unions.

Courtney Foley, political coordinator for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, is a key organizer of resistance to Ohio’s Senate Bill 5 – signed by Governor Kasich in March – and helped collect and verify over 1.5 million signatures in the effort to get SB 5 overturned (it will be on the ballot in the upcoming election as “Issue 2.”)

At a conference held several weeks ago, Ms. Foley conveys the mindset that, balance sheets aside, the focus must be on preserving jobs: “If you take away these public sector jobs, what are you leaving them with?”

Clearly, Ms. Foley is a smart person who knows the difference between surplus and deficit, but if you listen to the end of this video, you will hear in full math-challenged regalia the angle from which PEUs are approaching the governor: “We have to put him in his place.”

And one has to wonder: What part of ‘bankrupt’ don’t you understand?

This war mentality toward all who dare attempt fiduciary responsibility is reminiscent of the “curse our benefactors” worldview we see among the Greeks. And it requires little foresight to see that the PEUs are taking America down the same garden path to a union-driven parasite economy.

Never mind the fact we are out of money, or how we got into this state. Never mind production of wealth, without which there will not be any funds for anybody. Don’t worry about revenue coming into our jurisdiction as a result of people selling things that other people want to buy – the only mechanism by which taxes are meaningful in the first place.

We must marshall our forces to preserve what we have, and we must demand it be delivered by the most obvious source: the government.

But for those ignorant about basic economic concepts, how things are actually paid for seems too hard to comprehend. This simple fact underlies much of the financial crisis in America’s households and in the nation as a whole.

Triumph of ignorance and the mob mentality

Here is a summary of the PEU financial concept:

Q: What do we want?
A: Good jobs.

Q: What is a “good job”?
A: One that pays me as much money as I need, and which I cannot lose.

Q: Where do good jobs, ultimately, come from?
A: The government.

Q: How does the government get the money to pay for these jobs?
A: Taxes.

Q: Where do taxes come from?
A: Fat cats and companies who have too much money.

Q: And where do they get their extra money?
A: Unfair practices.

(I think most union activists actually do not get past the fourth Q and A in their economic comprehension.)

So, in sum, in order to buy into the union economic argument you have to be both ignorant – under-educated or uninformed – and incapable of thinking through to the root of the problem. This low quality of thinking, I contend, is one of the key causes of our deteriorating quality of life in America.

We can see it in modern marketing, in essence a mirror upon ourselves: A speaker I recently saw observed – noting television advertising’s insult to the intelligence – that 225 years ago the “Federalist Papers” were pamphlets handed out on street corners to the common man. Today, they are practically graduate-level material.

Over the last two-plus centuries we Americans have risen and fallen along various measures, but at this moment in time there is no escaping the fact we are a lower-quality people than in the past: less educated, less industrious, less moral, less intelligent. As a result, we are declining as a self-sufficient nation.

Ignorance, stupidity and a near-martial focus on an “enemy” – as vaguely or ill-defined as it may be – are the key ingredients of your basic mob. And to see the full blossoming of that reality, we need look no further than the “Occupy” movement headlines of the day.

Here we have the seeming conundrum of masses of people who are, by the world’s standards, relatively well-off, if not existing in outright luxury, demanding some sort of financial handout. Occupy Wall Street and its affiliated protests around the U.S. have been, by any measure of civilized behavior, a complete and total disgrace. Cities infested by warring camps. Speakers calling for widespread societal violence.

Perhaps most revealingly, Michael Moore praised the Occupiers for “ending the discussion” of debts and deficits. He encourages the mob for distracting attention from the issues at the root of whatever financial problems they may actually be experiencing in their lives.

That, my friends, is exactly what you need to keep a mob going.

If you want to keep tabs on the forces working to undermine America, you can do so easily …. on Facebook!

  • Stand Up For Hoosiers: Indiana “community organization” provides a perfect ongoing primer in economic illiteracy, as the participants rail against tax breaks for businesses, while at the same time insisting the state “create jobs.” To understand the mindset of blithe parasitism, it’s excellent source material.
  • Stand Up For Ohio: A primary Facebook site for the “vote no on Issue 2″ movement, also known as “Let’s Bankrupt Ohio.” They want “Good Jobs and Strong Communities” but what they will end up with if they win is quite the opposite.
  • Netroots Nation: The Facebook home of the Daily Kos community; if you want to know whom to thank for Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Oakland, etc., the Netroots Nation folks would be the a good place to start.
  • But if you don’t have time to keep tabs on all of these sites, the grandaddy of all gathering places for the mobs, moochers and mathematically-challenged is the Facebook page of the AFL-CIO. Whether it’s Societal Breakdown“Occupying” a formerly-civilized city, bankrupting Ohio, or the hundred other ways the parasitical organizations try to shake down productive businesses and taxpayers while at the same time demanding their “good jobs” – the AFL-CIO has front row seats in the cheering section.

If the United States is to follow the trail blazed by Greece, the AFL-CIO undoubtedly will be leading the way.