In Michigan, Governor Snyder Is Increasing Unemployment

For years and through the early part of the Great Recession of 2007-09, Michigan was ground zero for unemployment. Unemployment rates of around 15% – worst in the nation.  But once the GM and Chrysler completed their bankruptcies, it has begun to emerge. In the past 12 months Michigan has made relatively good progress on it’s unemployment problem.  In fact, it’s made the most progress of any state (a low bar, I know) while some states like Nevada and California and two other states are worse.  To the extent a governor is responsible for unemployment in the state, this must be accredited to Jennifer Granholm who left office in January 2011.

The new governor, Rick Snyder, came in full of Republican talk and promise of “creating good jobs”.  He’s been extremely vague about this happens other than to wave the magic business tax-cut genie.  Apparently, according to Snyder, if we simple cut business taxes by raising taxes on seniors and poor people, then the jobs will just happen.  Now there’s plenty of evidence indicating this idea simply doesn’t work.  Taxes are not the major reason why businesses are where they are.  More importantly, no business ever said “hey, my taxes were cut so I’ll be a good citizen and hire somebody”.  What real businesses do is they say “hey, there’s demand for my product, I better hire somebody”.

Unfortunately Snyder is not content to simply cut business taxes.  He has to tinker with a proven job-creation system based on tax credits for the film industry.  How this tax credits for a film industry are different from general business tax cuts is because they are focused on creating the initial infrastructure or economic “eco-system” that causes a significant industry to concentrated in one area.  Creating the basic infrastructure and network of start-up firms concentrated in a particular industry is critical.  It’s how giant industries grow.  It’s the dynamic that created Silicon Valley.  Heck, it’s the dyanamic that created Detroit and Michigan as the center of the auto industry 100 years ago.

We’re backtracking now.  From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110511/BIZ/105110359/Michigan’s-film-studios-go-to-fade-out#ixzz1M6IMlJeh

Michigan’s fledgling film studio infrastructure is crumbling as the number of productions declines in the wake of a $25 million limit on state cash incentives for movies, television shows and digital media.

Livonia-based Maxsar Digital Studios, which opened a week before Gov. Rick Snyder announced in mid-February that he wanted to cut and cap the nation’s most generous film and television industry tax incentives, has laid off its 50 employees and idled all productions.

A west Michigan facility known as 10 West Studio has lost two potential film deals, and one of its principal founders has relocated to Los Angeles.

Another studio operated by S3 Entertainment Group in Ferndale was evicted from a Madison Heights location earlier this year for failure to pay rent.

“We don’t have a sufficient industry to support an infrastructure at the $25 million cap,” said Jeff Spilman, founder and managing director of S3 Entertainment Group, referring to Snyder’s plan, which the state Film Office has adopted but the Legislature has yet to approve.

“Everyone who has had the capacity to leave has pretty much left,” Spilman said.

Having government plant the seeds, build the infrastructure, or even fund a young industry is an old and proven tactic for industrial growth.  It worked for railroads, the telegraph, electricity, computers, software, airlines, aircraft, pharmaceuticals, and many others.  Snyder is abandoning what’s proven to work for a magical belief in a genie.

I still expect some gradual improvement in Michigan unemployment, but that’s largely because our good old standby, the auto industry, is recovering and gaining ground.  Unfortunately that leaves Michigan just as dependent on one industry as we were before.

Social Security Facts

From Ezra Klein via Mark Thoma of Economists View:

Ezra Klein on Social Security:

1) Over the next 75 years, Social Security’s shortfall is equal to about 0.7 percent of GDP. Source (PDF).

2) For the average 65-year-old retiring in 2010, Social Security replaced about 40 percent of working-age earnings. That “replacement rate” is scheduled to fall to 31 percent in the coming decades. Source.

3) Social Security’s replacement rate puts it 26th among 30 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations for workers with average earnings. Source.

4) Without Social Security, 45 percent of seniors would be under the poverty line. With Social Security, 10 percent of seniors are under the poverty line. Source.

5) People can start receiving Social Security benefits at age 62. But the longer they wait, up until age 70, the larger their checks. Waiting to 66 means checks that are 33 percent larger. Waiting to 70 means checks that are 76 percent larger. But most people start claiming benefits at 62, and 95 percent start by 66. Source.

6) Raising the retirement age by one year amounts to roughly a 6.66 percent cut in benefits. Source.

7) In 1935, a white male at age 60 could expect to live to 75. Today, a white male at age 60 can expect to live to 80. Source.

8) In 1972, a 60-year-old male worker in the bottom half of the income distribution had a life expectancy of 78 years. Today, it’s around 80 years. Male workers in the top half of the income distribution, by contrast, have gone from 79 years to 85 years. Source.

Among his comments, my preferred solution:

Social Security’s 75-year shortfall is manageable. In fact, it’d be almost completely erased by applying the payroll tax to income over $106,000. Source (PDF).

I would add another fact to the list:  There is no shortfall in Social Security under the expected scenario for at least 27 years.  All of the minute 0.7 percent of GDP shortfall happens after 2038 at the earliest. This means Social Security actually reduces the government net deficit for the next 27 years.

Unfortunately Washington D.C. is a fact-free zone.

Economists For Sale

Economists widely believe themselves to be social scientists.  And gosh-darn rigorous scientists at that – I mean just look at all that esoteric math!  Why, why it looks just like physics!  (well, 19th century physics at least).   As everybody knows, real scientists observe things. They observe nature, experiments, phenomena.Economists are supposed to observe and explain how things get sold and why prices are they way are.

The enterprising economics department at Florida State University has taken it a step further.  Now the economists aren’t just observers of sales anymore.  They are what’s being sold.  Not only that, but the content of what they teach is for sale.  FSU has determined that the price of being able to tell FSU who is allowed to teach economics is apparently $1.5 million.  That’s the price FSU got for selling the soul and integrity of their economics department.  I’ll let the TampBay.com , a unit of  the St.Petersburg Times report:

A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”

Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.

Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.

The Koch Bros, for those who don’t recall or aren’t aware, are the people who funded the Republican effort in Wisconsin to repeal workers’ rights. The Koch Brothers have also basically bankrolled the Tea Party movement. From the same article:

Charles, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kan., cofounded the Cato Institute, a policymaking group, in 1977. His brother serves on the board. David, who lives in Manhattan and is Koch Industries’ executive vice president, in 2004 started the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which has worked closely with the tea party movement.

The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, to which he has given as much as $80 million a year, has focused on “advancing social progress and well-being” through grants to about 150 universities. But in the past, most colleges, including Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, received just a few thousand dollars.

The big exception has been George Mason University, a public university in Virginia which has received more than $30 million from Koch over the past 20 years. At George Mason, Koch’s foundation has underwritten the Mercatus Center, whose faculty study “how institutions affect the freedom to prosper.”

When President George W. Bush identified 23 regulations he wanted to eliminate, 14 had been initially suggested by Mercatus scholars. In a New Yorker profile of the Koch brothers in August, Rob Stein, a Democratic strategist, called Mercatus “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.”

As this story has become widespread on the Web the past few days, many people have been commenting to the effect that “all the  Koch brothers are doing is trying to counter the widespread liberal bias in academia”.  There are lots of problems with that point of view.  First, this isn’t just about a point of view. It’s about the corruption of academic freedom and censorship of what people can learn.  It’s censorship by the rich.  Second, regardless of whether there’s a widespread liberal bias in the rest of academia, there clearly isn’t a liberal bias in economics academia.  Instead, academic economists tend to be heavily right-wing and biased towards free markets.  Left-oriented or progressive academic economists have a much harder time getting a job in economic academic departments.

This isn’t really a new phenomenon – the selling of economists.  The documentary Inside Job does a pretty good of describing just how banking money and interests have influenced and corrupted academic economic research and policy advice.  All that FSU has done is raise it to a new level.

I hope you are as appalled at this blatant attempt to impose rich-guy censorship on what research gets done and what students are allowed to hear as I am.  If you are, you might want to keep that in mind when you shop for consumer paper products.  Think twice before buying those Georgia Pacific brands like Dixie Cups, Ultra, Angel Soft and Brawny.  The Kochs own G-P among a lot of other businesses like oil pipelines.