“You’ve been off in Daisyland.”
Let’s first be clear: Violent corruption of the kind depicted in Marlon Brando’s 1954 film On the Waterfront is mostly history. That’s not a problem today in Illinois.
The problem instead is the broader issue underlying that movie, evident today in the Illinois pension crisis: how the pie in labor gets split up among the little guys and the big guys. Small, rank-and-file pensioners are competing with bigger pensioners for pieces of a pie that’s too small. They haven’t recognized how bad it is yet, but somebody is going to get shorted, and shorted a lot. Shouldn’t the big guys lose proportionately more?
If you’ve never seen On the Waterfront, see it. Marlon Brando plays Terry Malloy, a longshoreman and washed up boxer who gets dragged into the corruption on the docks a generation ago. Union leaders skim off much of the pie available to pay ordinary longshoreman – that’s the underlying corruption in the story. Fed up with that, unwilling to go through life as just a “bum” who “could’ve been a contender,” and pushed along by a priest named Father Barry, Malloy risks his life testifying against what he saw.
Haircuts for some pensioners are inevitable. Illinois progressives and union leaders say a progressive income tax will solve most of the pension crisis — higher rates for higher earners. That’s also seen as fair because an additional dollar in taxes is more of a burden to the poor than to the wealthy. However, a progressive tax might raise a couple billion dollars more per year at best — against a $200 billion unfunded pension liability, a persistent backlog of billions in unpaid bills, and a 66% “temporary” income tax increase that didn’t help. If you think a progressive tax or any other combination of reforms so far proposed will solve Illinois’ fiscal problems you are living in Daisyland, to use Terry Malloy’s word, and we have documented that to death on this site.
Has any union or progressive reformer proposed that small pensions get priority over larger ones, or that the big guys chip in proportionately more to help? Not one. Larger pensions look more like winning lottery tickets that make pensioners millionaires, but they should get the same proportionate treatment as small pensions? This crisis makes destitution a real risk for rank-and-filers – those who work to a true retirement age then have to rely solely on a pension of maybe $20,000 to $40,000 per year. They get no Social Security, 401(k) or the like. Only their pension separates them from poverty. Before cutting them, cut the larger pensions and certainly the abusers – double dippers and those who spiked their last years of salary to spike their pensions. This should be a central principle in pension reform that even we who are not “progressives” should support.
But the big pensioners include many union leaders, most of the legislative leadership responsible for this calamity and the judges who will decide any dispute — they’re in the class of claimants with the big guys. All reform proposals so far implicitly say the big guys deserve every dollar of their pension as much as the rank-and-filers, which in fact contradicts the fairness rationale of progressivism. Union leaders have also proposed that members pay more into their pensions, but again in the same percentage for everybody. That won’t dent the problem, either. Pension deficits will persist and we will raise taxes until destruction of the tax base is clear even in Daisyland, then the haircuts will start.
Nobody in Illinois today needs to risk his life standing up for what they think is right on pensions (let’s hope). This fight is about disinformation spread by those who know better, willful ignorance of those who choose to live in Daisyland, and hypocrisy of supposed progressives.
It’s about whether Illinoisans want to be bums or contenders.
Terry Malloy, Father Barry, we need you now.