December 19, 2008

In recent months, a fair number of political officials have been choosing to give back some or all of their salaries. City councils have voted to reduce their salaries by 5 percent. Kentucky governor Steve Beshear is giving back 10% of his salary, along with several of his top officials. The Portugal bank governor has admitted his salary has dropped. In Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams has been donating his entire salary to charity since he was first elected: and he has turned his province from a have-not to a have for the first time since it joined Confederation. (It replaces Ontario, which is currently undergoing therapy.)

The United States House of Congress voted itself a pay increase, right on schedule.

I wrote earlier about the culture of entitlement that pervades top positions ... but they are not alone. Ever since the degree of Big Three desperation was made clear beyond a doubt, the UAW and CAW have been determined to excise themselves entirely from all responsibility. The fault is that of the global downturn, and of loss of consumer confidence resulting in sharp drops in purchases of big ticket items, such as vehicles. This is true, but only partly true.

From the UAW's webpage, "a typical UAW-represented skilled trades worker at GM earned $32.32 per hour of straight-time labor." This is well above the average for skilled trades workers, including those at non Big Three factories. In fact, significantly above-average wages have been the norm for the Big Three ever since Henry Ford started up his assembly line. They even lasted through the Great Depression ... but now we have a globalised economy, and the rules have changed.

In a news interview, one person who was about to be laid off at that particular Big Three factory was understandably upset: "I have three car payments to make!"

... You have three cars?

I mentioned the same clip, word for word, to other people without comment or shift in tone, and always I got the same reaction: "You have three cars?"

Once again, the lifestyle of an entitled convenience has become so firmly entrenched that there is no longer any sense that this is not typical, or even that this should not continue to be so in every respect. Entitlement is not when a working person expects to be able to receive a living wage that allows a roof over one's head, food in one's stomach, and the basic medical care that allows the person to continue to work. Entitlement is the assumption that a lifetime of above-average conveniences and perks ought to remain so.

I have written against bailouts so many times that it should not be surprising I would write against this one also: but I could not help but notice that the Senate sticking point on this one, and its eventual death knell, was the utter refusal of the union to compromise in the slightest ... and then I could not help but remember the al Italia strike, and the Sabrina strike, and the number of European national airlines that have permanently vanished from the skies due to economic difficulty.

And so, once again, we revisit the tragedy of the commons. Why not seize the opportunity for everything one can get, and let all the rest go hang?

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