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Last updated: Thu. Dec. 13, 2012 - 08:02 am EDT

COLUMN

Michigan's miseries offer warning to the rest of us

Fighting for ideas that have already failed is the definition of insanity

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For a preview of what the nation's future may bring, you need only look to Michigan, where the irresistible force of economic physics is being violently if laughably opposed by the heretofore immovable object of unionism and machine politics.

Having been the only state to lose population (54,804 people) between 2000 and 2010, and with an unemployment rate far higher than the national average and median income much lower, the futility of the status quo should be beyond debate.

Instead, opposition in perhaps America's most union-dominated state has become almost a caricature of America's growing entitlement mentality.

“There will be blood,” Democratic State Rep. Douglas Geiss predicted just before the GOP-majority Legislature passed the bill and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed it. Then fighting words turned into outright thuggery: a punch to a reporter's face here, pulling down a conservative group's tent there – with people inside. Two Michigan school districts were forced to close for a day after large numbers of teachers mysteriously failed to show up for work. Many teachers also stayed home in Detroit, where 7 percent of eighth graders are proficient in reading and just 4 percent competent in math.

At least Indiana's Democrat legislators merely fled to Illinois last year when Republicans first proposed “right to work” legislation that now gives workers the choice of whether to join a union. In the name of solidarity, some Michigan teachers have abandoned the very students they have already failed – academic malpractice that may sentence this and future generations to lives of poverty, crime or worse.

Will right-to-work solve all of Michigan's economic and social challenges? Of course not. And it's premature to assess its impact in Indiana, despite Gov. Mitch Daniels' announcement this week that nine companies intent to create 2,552 jobs here over the next several years.

But publications catering to companies looking for places to expand have boosted Indiana's rankings since right-to-work was passed, said Mick McCollum, interim president of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance. “It's generally thought to be a good thing (for job creation). It will also make unions more responsive to members,” he said.

There are times when true compassion demands real change, not the perpetuation of policies that have for decades failed to deliver positive results. Even so, Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson no doubt spoke for many Americans earlier this month when she suggested that President Obama owes the city a bailout because more than 75 percent of its residents voted for him last month.

But what good could a bailout do when a city's obligations over the next six months exceed its revenues by $47 million, its employees receive $1.08 in benefits for every $1 in salaries, more than 75 percent of babies are born out of wedlock, 34.5 percent of households are on food stamps, 27 percent of housing units are vacant and 15.3 percent of the 54 percent of the population that is actually working or looking for work have government jobs?

Why does this matter for the rest of us? Because, unless the Mayans were right and the world dies Dec. 21, another kind of apocalypse is looming in less than three weeks.

If left unresolved, the so-called “fiscal cliff” will trigger a $6 trillion across-the-board tax hike and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. The president says he wants to raise rates only on the rich; Republicans resist that and insist on spending cuts. Both should happen because, just as in Detroit, the nation's $16 trillion debt cannot be eliminated simply by soaking the rich.

In France, actor Gerard Depardieu recently joined the growing roster of wealthy citizens fleeing the country in response to socialist President Francoise “I don't like the rich” Hollande's pledge to increase the maximum income tax rate to 75 percent. Not even Obama is talking about that kind of rate – yet – but successful people will eventually grow weary of being demonized and exploited. Unless matched by real spending reform, higher taxes will simply embolden politicians to tax and waste even more.

Not to solve problems or reduce debt, but to build a power base by encouraging dependency.

McCollum said something else: A lot of companies are talking about expansion but reluctant to do so because of uncertainty created by the election, Obamacare and now the fiscal cliff. “People have to know the rules before they can make money,” he said.

But they have to be the right rules. What's happening in Michigan and Europe offer a timely warning of what can happen when the game is rigged to punish victory and reward failure.

kleininger@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.


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