Taxpayers to CTU: Stop Breaking Windows

By: Forrest Jehlik

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CHICAGO – Chicago taxpayers may once again face teams of teachers with strike signs and bullhorns demanding more benefits for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). CTU President, Karen Lewis, and Vice President, Jesse Sharkey, again threatened the city of Chicago and its taxpayers by warning teachers to save up to a quarter of their paychecks “to weather what could be a protracted strike.” Last Thursday’s preliminary strike vote among the 27,000 CTU members casting ballots resulted in 97 percent choosing to strike. Inevitably children will be brought out front and center, followed by cries from the CTU that the strike is “for the children.” Yet despite the cries from the CTU for Chicago taxpayers to “make sacrifices” or “make tough choices,” it is well past time to recognize and speak for the unseen victims of their demands. To do so, it is prudent to look to the past.

In Frederic Bastiat’s 1850 parable entitled, “Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas (That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen),” the French philosopher and economist describes a scene in which town locals gather at a shopkeeper’s business after his son carelessly breaks a shop window. As the shopkeeper laments his fortune, locals praise the action in efforts to console. “Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?” As the fable goes, locals suggest the broken window is actually good for the economy, as a window glazier will have to make a new window, someone in the trades will have to install the new window, and as a whole the town economy benefits. Yet amongst the rally no one stopped to look at the unseen, or what may have been had the window not needlessly been broken.

Rather than paying to replace a broken window, the shopkeeper may have spent the money on new shoes, a suit, or perhaps growing his business, and therefore the economy. The suit maker, shoemaker, or the growth of his business are the unseen losses. In the case of the broken window, the shopkeeper simply has to pay for a replacement. Nothing in the economy was gained, only redistributed. In the second case where one imagines the window remaining intact, the shopkeeper would not only have had a window, but also his money. This money could then be used towards productive activities of his choice. Today, CTU demands for more hard-earned taxpayer money are little different than the shopkeeper’s broken window of yesterday.

Money is taken from the taxpayer with demands for more by the CTU to pay for a centralized service, regardless of how inefficient or ineffective. Sadly, few imagine what that money could be used for. Chicago teachers receive an average salary of nearly $70,000 annually for nine months of employment. The per capita income for Chicagoans is less than half of that. Nearly a quarter of the city is below the poverty level. Chicago taxpayers foot a bill of $15,120 on average per pupil per annum (one of the highest in the nation), while only 28% of students are prepared for college by graduation date. 25% of the students that start never make it to graduation. And while the CTU may cry foul at the politicians that mismanaged their pension funds, it was indeed the CTU that showed up to support the administrations of years past, as well as the Aldermen that created this untenable problem. As a result, Chicagoans are some of the highest taxed residents in the country. This much is seen. The unseen is what may have been.

Rather than paying for excessive and untenable CTU pensions, the unseen taxpayer losses may have provided a more effective means of education for their children. Children could have been tutored, sent to private schools, home-schooled, or any other number of other competitive solutions. Or perhaps the money could have been used to start a small business, open a gallery, or move into a better neighborhood. We will never know all that is lost in this. However, we know that it would have been used for something of the taxpayer’s choice rather than paying unsustainable pensions which do not pay for an increased quality of education. The numbers speak for themselves.

It is time for Chicago to stand up for their children, they deserve better. Frankly, they deserve the best we can give, and give by choice. In doing so, it is time for Chicago taxpayers to finally demand the CTU stop breaking windows

Forrest Jehlik is a research engineer having received his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering from The University of California-Riverside and his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also sits on the Board of Directors for Taxpayers United of America. He has been awarded numerous research awards, patents, and authored numerous technical publications. In his free time he likes to work on and race marginal cars at highly questionable speeds, and challenge unchecked authority, both of which makes his mother nervous. She has a point.

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