Monday, November 23, 2009

At Berkeley, Leftists And Unions Unwittingly Face Off

When I read in the paper that Friday that students had occupied a building down at UC Berkeley, I just had to have a look for myself.

I drove down to campus that evening, with the sound of media helicopters roaring in the air. It took a few minutes to walk from my parking spot to the epicenter of the protests, but when I got there I could tell the trip had not been in vain.

There, I saw a phalanx of riot police surrounding Wheeler Hall and the main library. Across a small barrier from the cops stood maybe 200 protesters shouting various slogans -- things like "Whose university? Our university!"

I walked all the way around the buildings to see that cops were positioned at every entrance to block the protesters. At one point, I saw an army of about 100 cops double-time it down the street to the east of the surrounded buildings. Their march looked every bit like a military maneuver.

As I followed behind this phalanx of cops, I started counting, and I telephoned a friend to get a bit of information. You see, I was much more interested in how much this police presence cost than in the protest itself. I knew -- as everyone did -- that the protest was a complete waste of time.

My friend informed me that, including benefits, an overtime police officer typically receives about $150 per hour of service. My quick count of the cop column totaled 100 officers. That means this little army cost the government about $15,000 per hour.

My first thought was that I would be very happy to join their little army for that kind of compensation. Who wouldn't? There was no meaningful probability that the protest would become violent.

From what I could discern, the protesters don't like the fact that the regents voted to increase student fees. They also seemed very upset that several unionized workers might lose their jobs -- I saw specific signs in support of janitors and "those making under $40k."

I wonder if the protesters ever considered that the very reason for the state's reduction in contributions to the school is unionized employees like those the protesters support. And, to make matters worse, the worst offenders are the men and women who were standing across the barriers from them -- the police officers.

As a matter of fact, every dollar of overtime these protesters caused to be expended on the police came -- in one way or another -- directly from the same pot of money which would have gone to fund the university.

I tend to agree with part of the protesters' platform. Higher education -- and by "higher" I mean places like Berkeley, not Cal State Dominguez Hills -- is an extremely important priority, as it helps produce the technological advances which improve our lives.

However, the combination of this reasonable position with Leftist aims like "protecting union employees" leaves the protesters' position hopelessly befuddled.

You can't have it both ways. California has spent and spent and spent on ridiculous pension plans for its government/union employees. The state has bankrupted itself paying for cops and firemen, for the incarcerated, the poor and for education for the bottom rung of society.

And for what?

Here, at UC Berkeley, the absurdity of such spending comes home to roost. We as a society are investing heavily in our most useless citizens while underfunding institutions which are the keys to moving the human race forward.

So, as usual, I was left thinking to myself that both sides of the protest had it all wrong. The protesters don't really understand the nature of the situation -- or they just don't care. And the cops absolutely don't care. They're just glad to be getting that overtime check.

Both sides do have one thing in common -- they'd love to see higher taxes to pay for everything they want without cutting anything. Unfortunately, that seems to be the current plan across the land.

Higher taxes seem like a great idea until you realize several truths:

  1. The need of those at the bottom of the income spectrum is limitless, and no amount of taxes will ever be enough.

  2. Higher taxation drives out those with skills and high IQs, a process which is already well underway in California.

  3. Raising taxes just delays the inevitable discussion of what investments society should and should not be making.

In my opinion, it's simple. Cut funding for the poor and the stupid, and increase funding for places like UC Berkeley. A rising tide lifts all boats.

A sinking tide brings -- well, you get the picture -- Obamanomics.


  1. "The state has bankrupted itself paying for education for the bottom rung of society"?

    "Cut funding for the poor and the stupid"?!

    Good golly, it leaves the imagination little work to do in figuring out just what "investments" you think the government should be making.

    What ROI do you think can be expected from 'investing' in the education of those who would have likely paid for it anyway? Or are transfer payments to the upper middle class your idea of social justice?

    I'm sure it makes you feel better to think of the poor as stupid, the implication being that you - the rich, presumably - are smart and not simply lucky. A convenient argument to salve the souls of the guilty and justify an arbitrary oligarchy in which you find yourself (even more arbitrarily) at the top. Others consider the poor a health meter of society, a meter which is dangerously low these days. We, as a society, need to continue our investment in this under-utilized resource or risk having our culture crash.

  2. Dear James R,
    I was present when Milton Friedman agreed with you. The University of California is another of his examples of Robin Hood in reverse (much like Social Security). Poor people pay sales tax, part of which goes to an "exalted" institution of "higher" learning that they will never attend. Benefits to all of society? UC is way overrated. Personal freedom is much more productive in a grand "social" sense than an indoctrination center on steroids. On the other hand... the villains who get to dispose of the taxes that are stolen from the rest of us haven't a clue as to where it would do the most "benefit."

  3. Again, James you just read the blog and you still don't get it. Taxation is theft. The government steals from the rich (40% of taxes come from the richest 1% of our population) and gives to the undeserving. Our society can't afford to pay for everything everyone wants. That's why capitalism works and socialism doesn't. We each need to pay our own way.