Politics, Negotiation, and Sports?

At the capitol in Madison, labor negotiations are a little tense. This is because the party in power has taken a hard line on balancing the budget. Wait, that’s too simple, they’re not just balancing the budget, but taking a one-sided stance, a my-way-or-the-highway approach. As a result, the other side hit the highway and are holed up in Illinois in an effort to impede progress.

Time Magazine has an interesting article this week asserting the hard line approach in Wisconsin amounts to retribution, as people feel public employees (and their unions) have been putting themselves first for years, instead of serving the public effectively. The gist is that public employees  are paid fairly well considering their productivity levels. The article goes on to point out that the public sector is a good decade behind the private sector in productivity gains, and we would all be better served if the political discussion centered on increasing productivity. And, while efficiency gains do reduce costs, the unions have no history of effecting this. Quite the opposite, in fact. Just as culpable are politicians who have made promises to public employee unions in exchange for endorsements – most of which payments are deferred into the future. In a nutshell, these two classes – politicians and public employees – have cooperated to create this dysfunction. And now we can’t afford it. But the attack on longstanding rights to collective bargaining is driven by anger and idealism, not practicality. And clearly, it is clashing with an alternate ideal which is just as powerful.

As a negotiator, its interesting on a number of levels. I could build a strong case for either side. But what I don’t understand is why its acceptable for either party to disenfranchise the other. More importantly, how do they expect government to function?

When a negotiator takes a strong stand, he should expect a strong response. Breaking the unions is not necessary to balance a budget. I have no fondness for unions, but realize there are a number of ways to balance taxes and spending. The current political climate is so polarized the rhetoric tends to focus on: a) less spending, or, b) more taxes. But not both. The argument that working only one side of the equation is the only ideologically acceptable way is pure nonsense, and unacceptable. We have real problems and leaving half the tools in the shed isn’t very smart.

I suggest a new test for budget proposals, taxes, and political job-readiness. Each proposal regarding taxes and spending, will be vetted in a boxing ring before being introduced to the floor. The bill’s sponsor would enter the ring (with a boxer of similar size) and allowed to fight with either hand. (Presumably,  a Republican would use their right, while a Democrat would use the left). Of course, a balanced approach would enable the sponsor to fight with both hands. IF the sponsor makes it out of the ring in one piece, their bill can be introduced to the floor for a vote.

This would speed the process in a couple of ways. First, the value of a balanced proposal would become abundantly clear to a class of people who find it incomprehensible today. Bluntly put, our representatives would become smarter overnight. Wouldn’t you like a smarter government?

Second, extremist bills (and perhaps their sponsors) would not survive this vetting process. Just as likely, the nutjobs on the far right or left of the political spectrum would be less interested in public office. Without the rabble-rousing, political grandstanders, politics might be less entertaining, allowing them to focus on public service instead.

On the other hand, the entertainment value need not be lost. We could sell tickets to these vetting bouts, enabling politicians to raise funds for the public (for a change). Creating a sporting venue that combines the passions of sports and politics could be a gold mine. Marketed effectively, these sporting events could create significant revenue and reduce taxes.

Maybe its time to think inside the box(ing ring).

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