Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

True Religion

Mackinac on the Grand (our West Michigan Regional Policy Conference) opened with the official sermon from one Dr. Robert Genetski. As reported in The Press, he presented the old time religion: the problem Michigan is facing is due to no other reason than economic perfidy of Lansing, a failure to follow through on conservative economic principles.

And like any good preacher, he had the remedy for it as well, a swearing off of the bottle. Quit. Cold turkey.

“Tinkering around with this business tax is not going to send any significant message. Real action is to eliminate this tax entirely, sending a clear message to the rest of the world that we have changed our economic process here.”

Basically, he suggests that we burn down our own garage to prove we mean business — the act proves the purity of our intention. If this elevation of purity and creed over pragmatic engagement sounds vaguely familiar here in West Michigan, it should. This is the sectarian thought world. Generally around here we know enjoy the sects of a religious kind. The anti-tax creed of the economic radicals that so grips the Michigan Republican Party is only an economic version of the same. No one should be surprised that Dr. Genetski now lives in Allegan County.

But there was more to the true religion, Thursday.

Get Rid of that Union

If ending as many (all!) taxes is the first tenet, a second like unto it is the conviction that Michigan should be a Right-to-Work state. The session on Michigan’s Workforce of course echoed this theme. As the executive backgrounder noted this movement to right to worktakes place even as private sector membership has been declining. The economic rationale of more growth is lost: most jobs created are increasingly non-union. Moreover, economic studies of the impact of such legislation shows depressed wages with more households earning the minimum wage. So if right-to-work is ineffectual and depresses wages, what’s the rationale?

According to the Grand Rapids Press, it’s pretty much cosmetic.

Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Inc., said the perception of the state as a union stronghold keeps it off lists for businesses looking at job creation projects.

Klohs said a Right to Work law would be a step toward changing that perception.

Of course, there’s a second reason, as well. As the executive summary states, “Approving a local right-to-work option would increase local governments’ flexibility to compete in busienss or factory location sweepstakes” (emphasis added).

All this is standard West Michigan True Economic Religion, but is it the economic faith we need for the New Economy, the one where we compete globally? The real labor force development lies elsewhere: white collar, technical and professional. In the emerging economy, labor input is minimal, it is the intellectual input that adds the value. The need for training and re-training asks for continued and expanded educational expenditures (hard to do if we’re keeping the Genetski faith). Strategically, concerns for Right-to-Work are loss of focus on how the labor force should be developed.

Indeed, Right-to-Work in its industrial capacity represents a look backwards. It’s rationale is, in the words of the executive backgrounder, to “increase local governments’ flexibility to compete in business or factory location sweepstakes.” Twenty years ago, this would have had a validity, but in a global economy, we cannot pauperize ourselves sufficiently to compete on price.

This global reality was captured by Brian Walker, CEO of Herman Miller, “We need to be able to reach around the world for the people who are going to make us successful in a global economy.”

Comforting as the True Religion has been, it remains a turn to the older, remembered Michigan economy. The old nostrums are brought out because these are the political relics of the past twenty years. To cling to them is to engage in the politics of denial about our current situation. Low taxation, low labor costs are not the tools for taking part in the high-value globalized economy. Education, innovation, risk-taking are.

And that New Economy is the one to struggle for, Democrats and Republicans alike.

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