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MLive, Experts and what would be good for Michigan

April 23, 2018

On Saturday, MLive ran a story about the economic outlook in Michigan, with the usual framing around job growth, unemployment rates and wages. 

The article relies on what they refer to as experts for their analysis and then proceed to list 8 moves that would mean significant economic and job growth for the state.

As we stated in a previous post, “States don’t have an economy, just like countries and cities don’t have an economy. What we have is Capitalism, which is an economic system that doesn’t recognize borders, is based on constant growth, exploitation of natural resources & human labor, along with increased profits for those who already have tremendous wealth.” 

However, since MLive continues to talk about the economy of Michigan, it’s still important to look at the 8 ideas, based on expert input, that would be good for Michigan.

Michigan needs more people with four-year college degrees. This idea presents the notion that with a 4 year degree, you have more people with talent and that will attract businesses. The MLive report then cites Gov. Snyder’s Marshall Plan, which is nothing more than a business-centric proposal to bring more people from the professional class to the state. This Marshall Plan is really rather frightening and it seems to have received very little news coverage and what coverage there has been is uncritical of said plan.

What major omission in the idea that Michigan needs more people with a 4 year degree, is the issue of student debt. We have a whole generation of students that have tens of thousands of dollars of debt. When people are living with large amounts of debt, society will suffer.

The state needs good-paying jobs, not just jobs. While we would agree with this second point in principle, the MLive article never defines what good-paying jobs would be. There is a national $15 an hour minimum wage movement, but even that movement is also not just calling for better wages, but the need to have good benefits and a just pension. Benefits and pensions are not even discussed in the “good-paying jobs” idea. Moreover, the MLive writer takes at face value that these “good-paying” jobs would be for new professional talent and not for people in the service sector. This means that people who clean the rooms at the Amway Grand, bus tables at restaurants, pick the food at area farms, are not included in this “good-paying jobs” mantra.

Michigan needs to increase school funding. While more funds for public education are critical, the MLive writer never uses the term “public” when referring to education. The MLive article does state that Michigan schools are not performing well, but doesn’t offer any analysis of why this is the case. There is no discussion of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s role in public education funding, plus the article continues to talk about education in terms of job training instead of education that would create critical thinking students.

Upskilling Michigan workers needs to be an ongoing effort. This idea again refer’s to Gov. Snyder’s Marshall Plan. In this instance, it is about training, “the state’s residents for the high-skill, high-demand jobs the workplace needs.” In other words, businesses want to dictate what people should be trained in, as opposed to people having a say in what they want to do and how the economic system should function.

The state’s best urban environments need to grow and thrive. The argument here is that companies need concentrated talent and apparently they can’t find that in small communities. Therefore, cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids need to grow. This idea is not based on fact and it even comes with a certain level of contempt for those who live in small communities and rural areas. This idea also fails to acknowledge that if people with talent move to cities, it will mean the decline of small communities and rural areas, which suffer high rates of poverty.

Michigan should look at policy to improve jobs. While having sound policy to improve jobs might make sense, it has not be a reality for decades in Michigan. We could talk about the negative impact that NAFTA had on the manufacturing sector, but more recently we can look at the state policy that made Michigan a Right to Work state, the attacks on public sector unions, forcing people who previously had good pensions to now rely on the stock market for retirement and the elimination of business taxes in the state. These policy decisions in the past couple of decades are exactly what groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum are advocating for

Altering the sales tax structure would boost revenue. Working people are already over taxed. Instead, why not advocate for bringing the business tax back and re-structuring the tax system to put a larger burden on those with tremendous wealth to pay more in taxes. This is not likely to happen, since those with tremendous wealth are the ones who essentially buy public policy. 

Michigan could better leverage its universities and innovation. Again, there is no assessment of the fact that public universities have continued to receive less public money in recent decades, relying instead on wealthy donors who push their own agendas.

Essentially, this MLive article, like most articles on the economy, fail to discuss the wealth gap and how the capitalist class often dictates public policy on matters related to the economy and education.

These eight ideas are not new, not are they going to challenge systems of power in Michigan. Until civil society becomes more organized in mass movements and until workers decide to take back their power, the future of Michigan will not change, no matter who makes up the state legislature in Lansing.

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