Sunday, March 06, 2011

Why Wisconsin matters

From Chris Hayes' article:
The other problem is that our system is responsive only to voices at the top of the social pyramid—the bankers and businessmen who are raking in record bonuses and the professional upper middle class, which is recovering much faster than the nation as a whole. In a 2007 paper titled “Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness in the United States,” Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens analyzed 2,000 survey questions from 1981 to 2002, looking for the relationship between public opinion and policy outcomes. He found that “when Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear little relationship to the preferences of poor or middle income Americans.”

There is only so much social distance a society can take. The social science literature shows that as social distance increases, trust declines and aberrant and predatory behavior increases. The basic mechanisms of representation erode, and the social fabric tears. “An imbalance between rich and poor,” Plutarch warned, “is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”

It’s against this backdrop of creeping dissolution that the word “union” takes on a renewed power. That’s why the struggles of the protesters in Wisconsin have resonated so profoundly. In banding together to oppose Republican Governor Scott Walker’s power grab, the students, teachers, cops, firefighters and neighbors have willed themselves to shrink the social distance those in power are cynically using to pit constituencies against one another. Walker exempted cops and firefighters from his bill’s radical limits on collective bargaining, but they joined the protests anyway. “An assault on one is an assault on all,” proclaimed Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association president Mahlon Mitchell.

It’s in Wisconsin and across the Midwest that union members like Mitchell and his allies are showing us the antidote to the social distance that threatens the core of American democracy.

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