Is Wisconsin more like Germany or Greece?

Voters in progressive Wisconsin take a conservative tack

By Nicholas Nehamas

On Tuesday, Wisconsonites head to the polls. The question? Whether to recall Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, and replace him with Tom Barret, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee.

Since being elected in 2010, Walker has cut government spending and restricted the collective bargaining rights of public-sector labor unions. He says Wisconsin is living beyond its means and can’t afford to pay the high cost of the state’s school and healthcare systems. But Walker’s decision to reduce spending without raising taxes has angered many residents, who gathered outside the statehouse in massive protests that drew international attention.

Wisconsin, in some ways, offers a microcosm of a national debate: should we fix our sputtering economy with anti-deficit austerity measures or pro-growth stimulus policies? So far, governors in Florida, Ohio and New Jersey have been following Walker’s lead. Granted, states can’t run a deficit, a key to real stimulus economics. But cuts in services point to a question that underlies the 2012 presidential election.

The Wisconsin debate parallels a similar argument in Europe, as Greece and Spain teeter on the edge of insolvency. At Latitude News, we wondered what Americans, who traditionally criticize “European-style socialism,” now think of the prospect of embracing “European-style austerity.” So we sent our correspondent, Laurie Stern, into the streets of Hudson in western Wisconsin to interview the locals and hear what they had to say about our interconnected world.

Sarah Atkins, 47, small business owner. (Laurie Stern)

Atkins: “I believe we should spend public money to stimulate the economy…”

Ann O’Brien, 52, owner of City Barber Shop. (Laurie Stern)

 

O’Brien: “It’s tough making ends meet…”

Maren Cullen, 19, student/server. (Laurie Stern)

 

Cullen: “Having government intervention is a great thing when it’s really necessary…”

Paul Kremer, 52, owner of Dick’s Bar and Grill. (He says Dick’s, founded in 1860, is the oldest — and best — bar in the state). (Laurie Stern) 

 

Kremer: “If you ignore a problem, it can get bigger and bigger…”

Almost everyone we interviewed insisted on one thing: the bitter partisanship of the last four years must end. Wisconsonites are tired of black-and-white ideologies, grandstanding rhetoric and appeals to out-of-state interests. They want common-sense solutions to their economic problems before it’s too late.

How do you think governments in Madison, Athens and Madrid can create jobs without busting their deficits?