Debating Public Pensions

The UCR student run media collective Spoiled Minds has done a great job creating a genuinely democratic electronic space for the UCR community to share and discuss news, issues, thoughts, and concerns. I came across this post, which impressed me for its earnest tone. While the post’s title suggests that the piece will address the author’s views on the Occupy UCR encampment, the majority of the post actually discusses the larger issue of California’s perpetual budget crisis. Particularly, the author advocates the disturbingly common view that it is the cost of public workers’ pensions which has caused the budget crisis. I felt compelled to respond:

My primary concern with the positions you advocate is that by blaming California’s budget shortfalls on the cost of public pensions, you are regurgitating a calculated political narrative which pits the working class against itself at the interest of the richest 1%. The pensions that California’s public employees receive are compensation for a life of hard work in service to the public. Now, I do in fact feel a sense of displeasure with the nature of the work being performed by particular government workers (e.g., prison guards, police) just as I also question the fact that the aforementioned classes of government workers receive significantly greater compensation for their work than other public servants whose jobs are, in my view, more important (e.g., teachers, environmental regulators, etc.). I grant you that in a just society, cops and prison guards probably wouldn’t exist, and in a society more just than ours, they would exist in much, much fewer numbers. While I do indeed question whether the jobs performed by particular kinds of public workers are truly in the public interest, what I do not question is that the people who work those jobs spend their lives doing real hard work and with the presumed intent of serving the public. If the work done by some public workers does not in fact serve the public interest–and I fail to see how, for instance, the paramilitary policing of black and brown neighborhoods serves anyone’s interest–this is not entirely the fault of the worker him- or herself.

To varying degrees depending upon the particulars, the nature of a public worker’s job duties and the institutions in which he/she works are designed in such a fashion by the rich and powerful in order to extract wealth from the working class and to maintain other forms of entrenched oppression (caste, gender, language, etc.). That’s how the prison system works. By and large, that’s even how the educational system works at present. Though there is no reason that education ought to work this way or that it couldn’t be changed to work differently–i.e., to serve the interests of the public rather than the rich–we can see very readily who benefits from its present contours by asking the following question: What is student loan debt other than an instrument explicitly designed for a massive redistribution of wealth from the working class to the rich? I get that. But, I don’t see that it is in anyone’s interest–and certainly not in the interest of the people in our society having the hardest time–to put the entirety of the tax burden upon the people doing the rich’s shit work for them rather than demanding something resembling an equitable contribution from the people who receive the greatest economic benefit from our society.

This is the root of my objection to your position: you perpetuate a narrative that pits public employees against students when really both groups are part of the working class. Their division serves no one except California’s rich who’ve been getting damn near a free ride for far too long. We don’t need pension reform in order to pay for schools. We need to stop locking up black and brown youth. We need to tax the oil. We need to reform Prop 13. We need to tax high speed financial transactions. We need to tax millionaires.

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About 11again

Used to be an academic... now I'm a washed up academic. I like cooking, blues music, black writers, and morally compromised people of all persuasions.
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