In Unseen Academicals, one of his lesser novels, Terry Pratchett talks a lot about crabs in buckets.
Crabs in a bucket scrabble around a lot, trying to get out of the bucket before they are turned into someone else’s dinner. They all know what will happen to them if they don’t get out. They all desperately want to get out. They all want to be in a better situation than they are in now.
But none of them will ever make it out.
Not all of them can, you know. There are too many crabs and too much bucket for that. Only a few can better their lot. The rest are stuck. But you would think that some of them could get out at least.
And you would be wrong.
Because the crabs at the bottom won’t let that happen. Whenever they see some of their own doing better for themselves, better than they are doing, they reach out and pull them down, down to their level. Rather than look at the ones who are rising up in the world and being glad for them, or trying to emulate them, they declare that such crabs have no business being better than those at the bottom. They insist on an equality of misery rather than an equality of opportunity.
And they all die.
I’ve thought a great deal about this over the last few days, as I have listened to the chorus of the ignorant complaining about how Wisconsin state employees have such nice benefits.
The fact that those benefits are there to make up for the lower pay than those employees get compared with private sector employees is never mentioned, nor is the fact that even with those benefits the total compensation packages of most state workers is still 10-20% less than what they could get by walking off their jobs and into private sector employment.
The fact that such employees are willing to make that trade – to take stability and benefits over total compensation size – is not mentioned.
The fact that those employees – through their unions, often – fought long and hard to get those benefits in the way that private sector employees used to do before they were crushed, that those benefits were not given but earned through hard work and sacrifice – that’s never mentioned either.
All that is mentioned – screamed, hooted, chanted, whispered, broadcast over the vast conservative media establishment – is that state employees don’t deserve those benefits, because private sector employees generally don’t have them. That Wisconsin state workers should be punished for daring to improve their lots in life and brought low in an equality of misery with those who have already conceded their fate, or who do not have the power to better it.
That state workers should remain in the crab bucket with everyone else.
But crabs in buckets die.
And perhaps private sector employees ought to be asking how they can escape the bucket too rather than pulling down state workers. Perhaps they should be trying to figure out ways to earn benefits, even if that means taking less money up front. Perhaps they should be figuring out how to revive their own collective bargaining and union rights rather than trying to crush those who still have them.
In the meantime, there is always the bucket.