If I had a slogan around here, it would go something like this: “Good governance is the key to providing for the economic and social justice of the citizenry against the whims of the aristocracy.” And good governance is the key. The biggest obstacle to a progressive vision of government is not the required higher taxes, or the problem of welfare cheats, or even conservative opposition. The biggest obstacle is the rank indifference of all too many public employees, an indolence that’s only encouraged by the unions that make them virtually unfireable.
Today’s Gothamist, a site which cannot be accused of being a right-wing, union-busting propaganda organ, offers a tidbit of what I am talking about.
Project HOPE is New York City’s annual homeless outreach and census project. It serves partly as a photo op for Bill de Blasio and as a virtue-signalling opportunity for citizens, but mostly is performed as a condition to satisfy a requirement to receive federal funding. Gothamist freelancer Carter Maness went along as part of one homeless counting team, and encountered an old woman who requested transportation to a drop-in site — supposedly, a non-shelter site where the homeless may receive food and other help. It was a reasonable choice for her, as nights here in NYC go well below freezing these days. What happened next should be of zero surprise to anyone who’s had to deal with unionized public servants:
We called for a van, which was to be ready and in the area to easily transport anyone in need of help. No one picked up. My teammate called again. I listened in to the answer from her phone’s speaker.
“Oh, yeah, no, I’m not working tonight.”
“But you’re listed as the contact on the–”
“Yeah, sorry for the confusion, but I dunno.” Click.
The official van operator, our assigned contact for transportation to safety, didn’t even know he had a shift? We called the District Captain, who, bless his busy heart, spent nearly fifteen minutes on the phone trying to find someone else to help this woman. Too many things in motion, he lamented. Between the dead air, the woman used an empty bag of chips to warm her hands. As we continued to wait for help, she began a slow move toward a stairwell under an awning of the Brooklyn City Register Office. We were instructed not to follow anyone, but I shadowed her until she waved me off.
“It’s ridiculous they have you out here in the cold,” she said. “Go home. They ain’t coming to get me. You don’t know it, but nothing they say comes true.”
Few can speak with more authority on the failures of government than a New York City homeless person.
In addition, the elderly woman could not go down to the subway because, according to her, literally none of the nearby subway elevators were in operation. I can vouch: when those things go out, it can take weeks or even months for the unionized MTA employees to get around to them.
The problem? Neither the van drivers, nor the MTA maintenance employees, care even a little bit about their jobs. They operate in a fog of complete indifference, mixed with contempt for the public they serve. And why should they care? They can’t get fired, because the union’s got their back. They get no bonuses for caring about their jobs. If anything, they’ll get pushback from their colleagues if they care too much. They view their jobs as sinecures, and they would not be wrong.
Everyone knows this is the norm for public sector employees in this country who aren’t cops, firemen or teachers. (Been to a DMV lately?) And even some cops and teachers stopped caring about their jobs long ago, as we all know. These sorts of people form the most powerful counterargument to progressive politics that I can think of.
If Bernie Sanders became the nominee against all odds, his Republican opponent’s best argument against him would not involve taxes, or inveighing against “big government,” or calling him a pinko, or any other favorites from the conservative playbook.
To counter Sanders’ socialist vision, all the Republicans would need to do is compile a video. A hidden-cam video of government employees in “action.” At the DMV. Or MTA. Or a school district’s rubber room. Or a central accounting office. Or a motor pool. Or the NYPD impound lot. Just show unedited footage of these public “servants” with the tagline, “Would you really want to entrust your healthcare and your economy to THESE people?”
Socialism works in Scandinavia because Scandinavian public employees are famously dedicated to their jobs. That, far more than any other reason, is why it works. Until we find some way to make public employees care about their jobs here, progressivism will frankly be doomed for failure.