Though it is thoroughly conventional wisdom, recent events in Wisconsin and New York repeat the same lesson: Despite power’s impulse to dictate, people prefer to make their own choices.
The political story of the week was the surprising survival of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who won 53 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s recall election. The experience makes Walker only the third governor in history to face a recall election and the first to win such a vote.
Labor unions marked Mr. Walker for political death after he pushed big changes to the relationship between government employees and their employers, the taxpayers. Most significantly, union dues are no longer automatically deducted from paychecks. Public employees are making choices about their union affiliation now, and the results are stunning. According to the Wall Street Journal: “Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the state’s second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers—fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme’s figures.”
Here in Connecticut, the relationship between the state’s political power players and public labor unions is slowly being drawn out into the open via the Speaker Chris Donovan scandal. The cycle of public unions funneling money to politicians who use their power to funnel even larger sums of money back to the public unions was hardly a secret, but as federal investigators untangle the alliance, it is clear that it’s comeuppance time at the State Capitol.
New Yorkers bore witness to roughly the same phenomenon over the last week as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his intent to ban the sale of big sodas in the Big Apple. If Mr. Bloomberg had his way, sugary drinks sold in sizes larger than 16 ounces would no longer be available in restaurants, theaters, and stadiums. He justified his plan by commenting: “Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something. I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”
Reaction to the plan was fiercely critical. Even Jon Stewart lampooned the Mayor’s plan on Comedy’ Central’s The Daily Show. Most strikingly, a Rasmussen Poll showed that 65 percent of Americans opposed the plan.
It is true that obesity is a rapidly growing problem in America. It is also true that obesity, along with tobacco use, is one of few major health risk factors that can be controlled by individuals, unlike such things as genetics or family history. But people don’t like to be forced to do things, even if their “best interest” is at heart.
An oddly amusing New Britain Herald article this week, oddly amusing because the story made it into the New Britain Herald this week, pointed to what people really prefer. The piece heralded the arrival of a Coca Cola Freestyle soda machine on the campus of Central Connecticut State University. Students gushed over the new machine that gives users 125 soda flavor choices: “Amanda Hernandez, a CCSU summer student from Bloomfield, was getting an orange Coke with her lunch last week. “It’s pretty cool. There is such a big variety,” Hernandez said.”
There is an allure to power. It allows you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, like take money from people even if they don’t want to give it to you. You can both tell someone to live their life a certain way but also make them do it, too. But in the end, it always turns out that people prefer to make their own choices.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com