Posted tagged ‘Donald Downs’

We Need A Generational Change In Leadership

September 23, 2014

I spent a lot of time in early 2014 researching and pondering how Wisconsin’s economy stagnated after rising to pre-eminence in the 1970s. Among other things, I found Wisconsin’s leadership was resolutely stuck in the past while the national economy had moved on.

[T]hose old fights define Wisconsin, economically and politically. It’s as though our leaders are historical reenactors at Old World Wisconsin. They fire their muskets and shout the old-time shibboleths. Most of this is just spectacle — not really connected to resolving Wisconsin’s precarious economic position in the 21st century. But old habits don’t easily die.

Looking back at old glories, Democrats embrace the unions. Indeed, nothing rallies the base like a pledge to repeal the union-gutting Act 10. But unions are a declining force and face a questionable future in an era when worker-filled assembly lines are disappearing. Nationally, only one in nine workers is a member. In Wisconsin, union membership plunged from 33.5% of the non-farm workforce in 1965 to 12.4% in 2013, according to the economists at the Unionstats.com website.

The future is not bright. The expanding IT field, with its mix of collaborative teams, creative work and 1099 workers, seems particularly ill-suited to old-school unionism.

Republicans, meanwhile, embrace big business, especially traditional manufacturing, and have decisively tilted the state’s tax, regulatory and development initiatives to its benefit. That’s a king-size problem. Manufacturing jobs may have led Wisconsin’s modest recovery from the Great Recession. And Wisconsin does rank with Indiana as one of the top two industrial states in the nation. But Wisconsin’s glory days of manufacturing have decisively passed.

In 1979, manufacturing and its high-paying unionized work accounted for 33% of the jobs in Wisconsin. By 2012, it was 18%, according to the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS).

Reality is that Wisconsin never recovered economically from the crushing recession of 1981-82. The bloody harbinger of Rust Belt de-industrialization, it laid waste to the huge manufacturing base in the eastern half of the state that runs from the Fox River Valley through Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha and out to Janesville and Beloit.

I make the case that we sorely need of a generational change in leadership. Both the techies and the Millennials are the sort of pragmatic idealists Wisconsin needs.  You can read a lot more here. Also, posted below is a related piece that ran in the same issue of Isthmus.

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Targets On Their Backs

December 21, 2010

I examined the plight of  public employee unions in two earlier stories. In this Isthmus cover piece, I take a wider and deeper look at their problems.

The story begins:

In September, before the Chazen Museum of Art began stashing some of its collection to make room for construction, I stopped in to see John Steuart Curry’s iconic paintings of the Midwestern countryside. The half-dozen paintings, largely executed during Curry’s groundbreaking tenure as artist in residence at the UW-Madison College of Agriculture (from 1936 to 1946), include his portrait of ag dean Chris Lauriths Christensen striding through an experimental cornfield, tie flapping in the wind. It’s a stunning painting.Christensen’s face radiates determination and purpose. Clearly, he was a man on a mission, bringing university research and government help to Wisconsin farmers battered by the Great Depression.

And what great help it was. The ag school scored one breakthrough after another to enhance dairy and other farming — everything from vitamin D activation, to bull semen preservation, to fostering farmer-controlled cooperatives.

By this time, Fighting Bob La Follette and other Progressive leaders had transformed state government, regulating highhanded railroads, replacing the crony system with the nonpartisan civil service, setting a minimum wage, establishing worker’s compensation, instituting progressive taxation and embracing “The Wisconsin Idea,” where university professors would bring their knowledge to the four corners of the state.

Seventy years later, a remarkable turnaround has occurred. Government isn’t seen as a savior of the recession-battered citizenry. Instead, government itself has been defined as the problem, and public employees find themselves portrayed as villains for what is deemed to be their recession-proof jobs, Cadillac health insurance and gold-plated pensions.

To read more, please go here.


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