With Some Fava Beans

By Steven Miller
  • Monday, July 26, 2004

It was in the film version of Silence of the Lambs that writer Thomas Harris’ unforgettable character, Hannibal Lecter, was introduced to the broader American public.

A census taker had sought to test him, Lecter tells young FBI agent Clarice Starling. Accordingly, he recalls, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

That line lives forever on the Internet today. So, too, does the movie’s script (at various levels of draft) and numberless celebrations of everyone involved with the film.

Anthony Hopkins’ brilliant portrayal of the cannibal-psychiatrist not only won him a Best-Actor Oscar but two more highly lucrative returns to the screen as the same character—in Hannibal and Red Dragon

What is it about Hannibal Lecter that so speaks to the American public? Clearly, something here transcends the horror-movie genre.

Could it be, perhaps, that this portrait of an eminently courteous and sophisticated personality—who also eats human flesh—reminds us, at least subliminally, of something in our own everyday experience?

It very well could. Lecter’s operative principle—that you are mere meat for his table—is today alive and well in Nevada. It expresses perfectly the relationship existing between those who have achieved political control of our local governments, and you. The only modification is that, rather than devour your physical flesh, the agenda is to batten without restraint—or shame—upon your financial substance.

Because no competitive market in employment is allowed at the local government level in Nevada, the working folks of the Silver State are being bled white to support politically powerful union-run monopolies.

According to the state, the average Nevadan makes $32,199 a year. Yet he or she is compelled to support what are probably the highest-paid local government employees in the nation.

Officially, the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures put the average salaries of Nevada’s local government employees at $48,363—third highest nationally, exceeded only by California and New York. But those figures are misleading, because they leave out retirement and other goodies. In California and New York, government employees pay over 40 percent of their retirement contributions; in Nevada, you, the taxpayer, pick up the entire tab.

And what is that tab? For one average Southern Nevada local government employee, strictly defined—i.e., not a teacher, policeman or fireman—it is, today, $82,674. And ever-increasing numbers of local government workers are pulling down over $100,000 a year. Ten years ago, in fiscal year 1995, it was $54,318. That’s an over-50-percent increase.

The hard fact is that in government-union circles private-sector individuals are seen as mere prey. We are part of the great unwashed, miserable taxpayers, the designated helots of Nevada’s increasingly privileged and predatory New Class system. Our only role, as the politically powerful government union elite has now specified for decades, is labor service in behalf of their ever-higher salaries and benefits.

Not surprisingly, this is a part that private-sector union workers don’t want to continue to play. Like one member of a Southern Nevada plasterers’ local—interviewed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in January—they increasingly see that their government-sector union “brothers” and “sisters” are greedily eating them alive.

This underlying predatory reality makes it increasingly difficult for private-sector union brass to keep telling their membership to shut up and support the big new tax hikes that the government-sector unions incessantly push. Thus, the Nevada AFL-CIO, long a reliable rubber stamp for the teacher union, recently declined to support the Nevada State Education Association’s taxpayer-looting “fund schools at the national average” constitutional amendment. But it remains to be seen whether Nevada’s private-sector union bosses can muster the cajones to actually enter the lists in behalf of their members and against the NSEA. Nationally, the pattern has been to simply lie low, stonewalling members, while continuing to support public sector predation.

Traditionally, government jobs offered lower salaries but made up for it with generous medical and pension benefits. Today, however, local government unions exercise such a lock on the political process that they’ve abandoned all pretence of merely wanting equity. Their monopoly on government employment permits them to extort both salaries and benefits far beyond what private-sector employers, facing real-world competition, can pay.

All over America today, local government unions are pushing elected officials ever farther down this road of predation on everyone in the private sector. And all over the country it is precipitating fiscal crises—big-time.

Nevada is not exempt from this process.

It is time to forsake the cannibal feast.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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