Scott Walker, Wisconsin public workers and John Boyd

Winningreen Discourse                  A022311

Scott Walker, Wisconsin public workers and John Boyd — what's really going on here?

By Tom Randall

Date:  February 23, 2011


"Open systems communicate and live.  Closed systems do not communicate, become non-discerning, uninteresting and die." — Col. John Boyd, USAF (dec.)

The battle of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans versus the public employee unions and their Democrat supporters is far more fundamental than simply the right of such workers to negotiate their work rules and strike — far more fundamental that the ideological split between parties. The dispute turns on basic difference in human perception.

John Boyd, the modern era’s preeminent military strategist and theorist of human cognition determined that human thought processes are divided into two types: open systems and closed systems.  There are other divisions of course, such as planes of thought but the open/closed split cuts across the other divisions.

Let us look at the enormous changes that have occurred over the last 50 years relevant to the dispute happening now in Wisconsin, and think of these changes as new information entering, or at least available to enter, the thought processes of everyone involved.

The past:  The years following WWII until the early 1970s were the heyday for union organizing in the United States with membership topping out at approximately 24 percent of both the public and private workforce.  The economy was soaring, except for a couple of minor hiccups.  Big business was happy to fund outrageously generous settlements just to keep workers on the production lines. Public sector workers numbered far less than a third of today's members with most having few bargaining rights.

Public sector workers were paid considerably less than those in the private sector in those days so benefits at a higher percentage of total income were generally accepted as appropriate. 

State and local government deficits and debt were virtually unheard of.  In most cases deficits were illegal and still are.  Federal deficits and debt run-up were mostly limited to war years.

Social Security began paying out at age 65 when the average life expectancy was lower than that.  Medicare and Medicaid entitlements were relatively insignificant in a relatively young, well-off population.

Foreign competition was virtually unknown as much of the rest of the world had been destroyed by war and was busily rebuilding.

Today, the change that is new information:  Private sector union jobs have plummeted to 6.9 percent of the workforce while public sector unions have grown to 36.2 percent of workers or 29,848,000 members. Private sector union members have agreed to huge reductions in both wages and benefits as jobs move to right-to-work states or off-shore, the auto industry being a prime example. 

Conversely, public sector workers now make much more than their private sector counterparts and their benefits have actually increased, all at the expense of higher taxes paid by private sector workers.  Most in the country are now convinced that this situation exists because public sector unions provide huge financial and personal support to those politicians that provide generous contracts — Democrats.  In large part, particularly in Wisconsin, that's why voters elected Republicans to the majority last November.

In the meantime nearly every governmental body — state, local and federal — has worked itself to the brink of bankruptcy and beyond, due in large part to the staggering structural deficits unions contracts have forced on them, particularly as the nation's population has aged.

Expenses have been growing as tax bases have been declining.

This has resulted in a simple reality.  There is no more money.

As a result, Scott Walker and the Republicans, who are inclined to look at the changing state of the world and embrace the necessary solutions, have remained an open system, able to comprehend today’s world. 

To the Democrats and their union supporters, however, this new world situation kicks off a series of cognitive events which Boyd called a Causal Chain — events which close and eventually shut down and destroy a system.  It began with the novelty and threat the new reality poses to the old order.  That has obviously been followed by disorientation and surprise that Walker would take the action he has.  Then shock set in and caused disruption of their lives and thought processes to the point where they appear to be actually harming their own cause.  We are beginning to see the next stage — loss of cohesion —which has the union members tugging in various directions (protest, go back to work, contact Democrats who have left the state, etc.).  This could soon lead to paralysis, which seems to be getting close, even now.  The end will be collapse or the demise of their closed system.

This same process is beginning in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and other states.  Oddly, in Illinois, the most perilously debt-ridden state in the country, there are signs of some Democrats opening their cognitive systems to the new realities.  Michael Madigan, Democrat Speaker of the Illinois House, power broker, union supporter, and also a political realist, is beginning to make comments about the need to change the relationships between public unions and government and seriously consider cutting costs.

Events appear to be proving Boyd right when he said open systems will live and closed systems will die.

Contact: Tom Randall
Winningreen LLC
Phone: 773-857-5086
e-mail: trandall@winningreen.com