The Janissaries were an elite Ottoman military class. They formed up some time in the mid 1300s, and, once upon a time, they served quite a useful purpose. Having a standing military gave the Ottoman empire some pretty good weight to throw around; however, things deteriorated. The Janissaries developed significant political clout and extracted all sorts of favors from the Sultan. They gave themselves land and titles and threatened revolt if they didn’t like the looks of things. The Janissaries got sedentary though. When attempts were made to modernize the military, they revolted, insisting on the old way of doing things. Eventually they were just a political power class. Their military function was decreasing – they were only good for holding the Sultan hostage.
Obviously this couldn’t go on forever. In 1826 Sultan Mahmud II incited a Janissary riot, set their barracks on fire, and executed any survivors. And thus, the Janissary menace ended.
This is the way it goes so often. Groups form for good and reasonable purposes. As they prove their mettle they gain in political stature. Then, they understand that by throwing their weight around they can extract goodies from the government. Eventually, that’s all they are good for: extracting political benefits. Sorry, but if you don’t provide any greater benefit to the society than being a parasite, it’s time to go.
It seems we face a similar situation now in the US. Of course I’m not referring to the military – an all volunteer force with rather paltry pay. Rather, I’m thinking of the major unions.
They started for a reasonable and useful purpose. Collective bargaining was needed to prevent abuses by employers. Eventually they were given political cover to extract more than needed or reasonable from their employers. They could shut down production easy enough (striking), but they also got a blind eye from the authorities while they hindered the hiring of replacements. They would go on to extract ever-increasing benefits while, in some cases, showing decreases productivity. Soon the parasites were killing the hosts. GM went under, Chrysler too (again).
So, what happens next for the political power class? Well, it’s on to the next host. The US government takes over GM, illegally removes rights of the bond holders, and grants favors to the unions (ownership). But what about massive unfunded liabilities in bloated pension plans? Ah yes. For this we turn to the taxpayer. A government funded healthcare overhaul will alleviate the burden on the unions – passing the bill on to you and me.
A note on these political power classes: they never ask for smaller payouts; the extortion only gets bigger.
We see the same sort of behavior out of other unions as well. Education, public servants, etc. This brings us to a useful note: quite often the run-of-the-mill members aren’t a part of the problem. They’re normal folks trying to do their jobs and make their way in this world. It’s the power-brokers in charge who are throwing political weight around.
We still have time though. Your vote still matters. The public can still demand that unions play fair (e.g., no public bailouts). The ballot box can still nullify the systemic risk. The political process still works. It is clear though, the Janissaries have to go.