The Wisconsin recall is being watched as a measure of the clout of organized labor, and as a possible bellwether of the November election. But its importance goes much deeper.
Eventually, the nation will need to enact the kinds of reforms Governor Walker has put in place, which restrain labor's ability to get friendly politicians to negotiate rich contracts for state workers. Such contracts had driven the cost to the state of both health and retirement benefits to unsustainable levels, similar to what federal entitlements have done nationally.
The Walker reforms have closed a $3.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes. The state now has a jobless rate a point and a half below the national average and 23,000 jobs were created last year.
You might think that with such results, Walker would win easily and maybe he will. But the polls have seemed to tightened of late and if he loses it will send a warning to politicians across the country that reining in government health and retirement benefits could cost you your job even if the results are positive. Sooner or later, such steps will have to be taken to keep the country from drowning in debt. But sooner is better because the longer the country waits, the higher the cost and the more painful the adjustments will be. Wisconsin will not tell us whether the country will eventually take such steps. But it could tell us a lot about when.