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Go After Wall Street, Not the Teachers

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Written by Dean Baker   
Friday, 18 February 2011 16:09
You have to give Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his wealthy patrons credit. Here we have a situation where Wall Street fat cats wrecked the economy — people like Richard Fuld, Robert Rubin, and Angelo Mozilo — and they've somehow managed to blame schoolteachers and the highway patrol.

Now we have a situation where the villains are sitting on their hundreds of millions of dollars, while tough guys like Gov. Walker are beating up school teachers to take away their $2,000-a-month pension. And, the best part of the story is the Walkers are being heralded as statesmen for their efforts.

This situation speaks to the incredible corruption of U.S. politics. There have been numerous studies done by serious economists that all show the same thing, public-sector employees are not paid on average more than their private-sector counterparts.

The right has been very effective in highlighting the few cases of overpaid workers or excessive pensions and convincing large sectors of the public that their problems are due to overpaid government employees. Of course it helps to have a news media that show about as much independence as Pravda did back in the days of the Soviet Union.

The reality that no honest person can dispute is that state budget crises are almost entirely due to the economic downturn, not out of control spending. This in turn was the result of Wall Street fraud and greed and the incredible incompetence of people like Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, who failed to rein in the housing bubble before it grew to such dangerous levels.

However, politicians like Gov. Walker have managed to instead focus public anger on public-sector employees who have the audacity to want to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. It would be great if the events in Wisconsin can be a turning point. If our economy was being managed by competent people we would have no problem assuring the whole population of the same sort of pension and health care benefits that most workers used to have and public employees still enjoy. We just have to stop handing over all of our money to Wall Street.

This article originally appeared on POLITICO's blog, The Arena.

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