Rick Snyder Advocates Government Planning to Fix the Labor Market

In recent posts here, here, and here, I’ve been discussing structural vs. cyclical unemployment.  In particular I’ve observed how those who are opposed to government stimulus efforts, either broad-based tax cuts or spending, are desperate to assert that our unemployment is a structural problem and not cyclical.  Yesterday’s post about a story in the Wall Street Journal was one example.  But here in my home state of Michigan, our Governor Rick Snyder has been saying much the same thing.  Since Governor Snyder’s previous claims that the magic jobs genie would create jobs from budget cuts have not worked, he really wants to join the “it’s all structural” brigade.  So last week Snyder announced:

Michigan needs to do better training people for in-demand jobs, and matching skilled workers with potential employers, Gov. Rick Snyder said…

“Today, too few workers have the skills needed to meet the demands of employers in the new economy,” Snyder said, according to an advance copy of his message. “Despite an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent, thousands of jobs remain unfilled in Michigan.”

Snyder said state companies say there is a “talent disconnect,” with baby boomer retirements leading to a loss of skilled workers and increasingly technology-driven economy requires advanced skills that many of our workers do not have.

“Today, talent has surpassed other resources as the driver of economic growth,” he said. “Times have been tough in Michigan. We have failed to think strategically about the relationship between economic development and talent. Job creators are finding it challenging to grow and develop without the right talent and job seekers are struggling to connect with the right opportunities that leverage their skills.”

Among the proposals is a new website, Pure Michigan Talent Connect – MiTalent.org – will feature tools for job-seekers and employers to identify labor trends and help people assess their skills, look for the training they need and connect with mentors.

The site is being launched in phases through June 2012. The first phase, features the “Career Matchmaker” and the “Career Investment Calculator.”

Partnering with public colleges and universities to provide a post-secondary education that is marketable and transferable. Snyder noted that the Center for Michigan concluded that colleges graduated 20 percent too few computer and math professionals, 14 percent too few health care professionals, and 3 percent too few engineers in 2009-2010.

“We need to stop overproducing in areas where there is little or no occupational demand and encourage students and educational institutions to invest in programs where the market is demanding a greater investment in talent,” Snyder said. “The current imbalance creates a population of young talent that cannot find work in Michigan, is saddled with debt and is ultimately forced to leave the state. This is an outcome we cannot afford.”…

“The simple truth is that tomorrow’s opportunities cannot be realized with yesterday’s skills,” he said. “The challenge we face is to align the aptitudes and career passions of job seekers with the current and evolving needs of employers. The solution is to reinvent the way in which we prepare our children for successful, fulfilling careers; reshape the manner in which Michiganders look for work; and redesign the way in which employers obtain the skills they need.”

Basically, Snyder is now asserting that Michigan’s high unemployment rate is primarily structural – it has nothing to do with Snyder’s jobs cuts and spending cuts in the state or with the present contractionary federal fiscal policy.  Instead he blames the unemployed – they have the wrong skills and the wrong education.  What’s particularly interesting here is that normally Snyder, like most Republican governors, is very pro “free market” and “private sector”.  But apparently the free market and the private sector haven’t performed well in the labor market according to Snyder.  Snyder seems to be saying we need government planning and direction to tell people what skills and education to get.  Apparently Snyder also doesn’t think private employment agencies or employers do a very good job of identifying trends or make connections.

I think the problem is not that Michiganders don’t know the right way to look for work.  There simply aren’t enough jobs at reasonable wages when they look.  It seems strange to hear calls for such fancy government economic planning coming from a so-called advocate of free markets and the private sector.  But when you’re desperate to justify spending cuts instead of stimulus, I guess that’s what you say.

Unemployment Benefits Cut Will Worsen Things.

CalculatedRiskBlog reports:

Here is a depressing report from the National Employment Law Project: States Made Unprecedented Cuts to Unemployment Insurance in 2011

NELP’s new analysis shows that in 2011, six states cut the maximum number of weeks that jobless workers can receive unemployment insurance to less than 26 weeks—a threshold that had served as a standard for all 50 states for more than half a century, until this year. Michigan, Missouri, and South Carolina cut their available weeks down to 20; Arkansas and Illinois cut down to 25; and Florida cut to between 12 and 23 weeks, depending on the state’s unemployment rate. Double-digit unemployment in Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida did not discourage lawmakers there from making the cuts.

… Indiana changed the formula it uses to calculate weekly benefit amounts so that the average unemployment check will drop from $283 to $220 a week.

Ouch.
This makes things worse.  It increases the risk of  another drop in GDP.  See, when people who have been getting unemployment benefits have their benefits cut, they cut their spending.  That means some businesses are selling less stuff. Those businesses in turn layoff more workers, or at best case avoid hiring new ones.
As for the argument that people who get unemployment benefits avoid working just to get the benefits, there’s two responses.  First, even by the micro-economic models and theories so beloved by conservatives, it’s totally irrational to do so.  I mean, do you really believe people pass up opportunities to have $48,000 a year or more (median household income) in order to collect $8,000 (maximum unemployment benefits for 26 weeks)?  No, it’s totally irrational.  Second, cutting unemployment benefits to try to get people to have jobs is essentially punishing the unemployed. If there are no jobs to be had, it makes no difference how much we punish them.  They can’t get a job.  The beatings will continue until morale improves.

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.

Shock Doctrine and Wisconsin and Michigan

Author Naomi Klein wrote a book a few years ago called Shock Doctrine.  It is a powerful antidote to the pro-free markets, pro-globalization stories of authors such as Daniel Yergin and Stanislaw who wrote Commanding Heights.  I wish Shock Doctrine were a full-length video to juxtaposition against Commanding Heights. In the book, Klein documents how repeatedly over a 40 year period various crises have been exploited by right-wing, free-market fundamentalists to implement policies that could not be implemented via ordinary democratic means.  Further, Klein documents how the exploitation of these crises was not accidental. It was intentional. Amy Goodman notes of the book:

In it, she reveals how those in power use times of crisis to push through undemocratic, radical, free market economic policies.

The book, published in early 2008, mostly deals with crises in other countries. Some were political, some economic, some war-related, and some natural disasters. It is a disturbing and yet riveting tale.  The “reforms” forced through in country after country inevitably work to the benefit of the global elite corporations and banks. Yet in the book most of the crises and forced “reforms” are in either poor or developing countries. It’s possible to read the book and think that we in the developed, industrialized countries are immune to such anti-democratic exploitation of either real or contrived crises.  Yes, Klein offers the example of Katrina striking New Orleans to illustrate that it “can happen here”, yet it’s possible to think not. Now it’s time to think again.

Now it’s 2011 and the crises have come to the U.S. and other developed countries. In the U.K., a new conservative government has chosen to whip up a fear of a sovereign debt crisis. “We don’t want to be like Greece”, despite the reality that the U.K., having it’s own currency, can never be in the circumstances Greece is.  They are exploiting the fear of crisis to mount a massive dismantling of public benefits that would not otherwise be possible. A dismantling they didn’t explain prior to the election.

But what I want to observe is that Shock Doctrine tactics have come to the U.S.  In Congress, Republicans are claiming the government is “broke” despite the evidence that the government can borrow unlimited amounts at near-zero interest rates and despite the fact that the U.S. cannot go “broke”. But they are using this supposed “crisis” to try to reduce or dismantle a fundamentally sound, socially beneficial program like Social Security. Heck, even if there were a budget crisis for the government, Social Security isn’t the cause and cutting isn’t the solution.  Yet the tactic here is pure shock doctrine.

I’ve mentioned before how we’re seeing Shock Doctrine in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states that are attempting to repeal collective bargaining rights for public workers and to bust unions is pure Shock Doctrine. There is now an extensive interview with Naomi Klein where she talks about these events:

we are seeing right-wing ideologues across the country using economic crisis as a pretext to really wage a kind of a final battle in a 50-year war against trade unions, where we’ve seen membership in trade unions drop precipitously. And public sector unions are the last labor stronghold, and they’re going after it. And these governors did not run elections promising to do these radical actions, but they are using the pretext of crisis to do things that they couldn’t get elected promising to do.

And, you know, that’s the core argument of and the thesis of the book, is not that there’s something wrong with responding to a crisis decisively. Crises demand decisive responses. The issue is this backhanded attempt to use a crisis to centralize power, to subvert democracy, to avoid public debate, to say, “We have no time for democracy. It’s just too messy. It doesn’t matter what you want. We have no choice. We just have to ram it through.” And we’re seeing this in 16 states. I mean, it’s impossible to keep track of it. It’s happening on such a huge scale.

Teachers’ unions are getting the worst of it. March 8th was International Women’s Day. This is—you know, as you pointed out on your show, it’s overwhelmingly women who are providing the services that are under attack. It’s not just labor that’s under attack; it’s the services that the labor is providing that’s under attack: it’s healthcare, it’s education, it’s those fundamental care-giving services across the country, which could be profitable if they were privatized.

Later in the interview, Klein touches on what’s happening here in Michigan. In Michigan we have Governor Rick Snyder, a man who won a landslide by specifically not telling anyone what he planned to do other than “re-invent” Michigan.  Yet within days of taking office he announces plans to raise taxes on senior citizens and poor people. He further cuts state funding of local governments and school districts. Then he and the Republican legislature pass a new law to allow the governor to appoint an “emergency financial manager” with dictatorial powers to take over any local government or school district in financial trouble. All of this it is claimed is necessary because of a budget “crisis”.  Yet the budget “crisis” is itself largely the result of Snyder’s own proposal to repeal existing business taxes and replace them with business taxes that collect much less money.  It’s a crisis that Snyder largely creates and then proposes to “solve” by repealing voters rights’ to run their own local governments.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you about Michigan. About a thousand people rallied in Michigan—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN:—reminiscent of Wisconsin. Talk about the proposal there.

NAOMI KLEIN: … there’s so much going on that these extraordinary measures are just getting lost in the shuffle. But in Michigan, there is a bill that’s already passed the House. It’s on the verge of passing the Senate. And I’ll just read you some excerpts from it. It says that in the case of an economic crisis, that the governor has the authority to authorize the emergency manager—this is somebody who would be appointed—to reject, modify or terminate the terms of an existing contract or collective bargaining agreement, authorize the emergency manager for a municipal government—OK, so we’re not—we’re talking about towns, municipalities across the state—to disincorporate. So, an appointed official with the ability to dissolve an elected body, when they want to.

AMY GOODMAN: A municipal government.

NAOMI KLEIN: A municipal government. And it says specifically, “or dissolve the municipal government.” So we’ve seen this happening with school boards, saying, “OK, this is a failing school board. We’re taking over. We’re dissolving it. We’re canceling the contracts.” You know, what this reminds me of is New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when the teachers were fired en masse and then it became a laboratory for charter schools. You know, people in New Orleans—and you know this, Amy—warned us. They said, “What’s happening to us is going to happen to you.”

Think of the power now concentrated in the Governor.  If any local government or school district doesn’t do what Governor Snyder wants, if the local voters don’t want their schools run the way Snyder does, then Snyder cuts the funding to the school district/city.  They fall into “financial trouble”.  Snyder appoints a crony as financial manager.  The financial manager can go so far as to privatize the entire city and dissolve the entire existence of the city.  So much for popular will and voters speaking in a democracy.  Meanwhile, Snyder, the Governor becomes a very, very powerful man. And power can always be converted into great wealth.  Welcome to the banana republic and crony capitalism. Outcomes no voter would support if given a choice. Courtesy of the Shock Doctrine.

Michigan IS Wisconsin – Just Different Tactics

Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, claims “Michigan is not Wisconsin”.  People take this to mean Snyder doesn’t want to bust unions. That’s wrong. What Snyder means is he’s going to use a different strategy than Walker in Wisconsin.  Walker is a bare-knuckle street fighter. Snyder hires a hit-man. Snyder smiles, tells you what you want to hear, lies about his priorities, and then has his hit-men crush you. Snyder claims he wants to negotiate with unions and isn’t out to “bust the unions”.  So far, Rick Snyder has largely gotten a free pass compared to Scott Walker in Wisconsin. The national news media concentrates on Wisconsin and the protests are largest there. But part of the attention in Wisconsin is because in Wisconsin the power grab to end collective bargaining rights has been so blatant, so clear.  It’s made great theater. And the media love theater.

In Michigan, the effort to end bargaining rights and to bust unions is apparently just as strong, but it’s more subtle, more sophisticated. In Wisconsin, you only have to read a single proposed bill to see that they want to end collective bargaining rights. In Michigan, you have to connect the dots to see the pattern.

First off, there are over 40 anti-union bills that have been introduced in the Michigan legislature since January 1 that have consequences for unions.  In some cases, it’s not just public employee unions under assault, it’s private unions too. In Michigan there isn’t one bill that does the big repeal of rights. It’s lots of bills each chipping away at one right or another. In one case, the bill doesn’t repeal collective bargaining rights for the private sector in all Michigan, just in to-be-named-later “zones”. In another bill, a specific work rule bargaining right is over-ruled for teachers. It’s the death of collective bargaining by a million cuts.

If all these bills pass, and there’s no indication from Snyder that he would veto any of them, they mark a significant roll-back of collective bargaining rights in Michigan.  But there’s a hidden strategy that’s even bigger.  Many of the bills are about increasing the autocratic powers of “emergency financial managers”.  In Michigan “emergency financial managers” are appointed by the Governor and state Treasurer. These emergency financial managers are appointed to take-over the management of local school boards, cities, counties, or townships that encounter financial difficulties. Emergency financial managers are not accountable to local residents or voters at all. They report only to the governor. Further, emergency financial managers have the powers to unilaterally revoke all union contracts and negotiations. Snyder and the Republicans are moving swiftly to increase the already hefty power of these emergency financial managers. A spokesman for the Republican majority leader in the legislature claims these bills are not about busting unions but about “protecting municipalities from bankruptcy.  From The Detroit News:

“We’re not out to destroy anything, we’re out to help everybody,” Marsden said.

“That plan is aimed at keeping municipalities from falling into bankruptcies that will cost people jobs.

But if the objective is to protect municipalities from bankruptcy, why are the biggest budget cuts aimed at revenue sharing and schools?  Right now “emergency financial managers” seem only like a hypothetical to most residents and voters. After all there are only 4-5 such financial managers in the state.  Detroit Public Schools and the cities of Pontiac, Ecorse, and Highland Park have them (there maybe another one or two, I’m not sure). But after the budget is implemented there will be a LOT of cities and school districts in serious financial trouble. Then the governor appoints his emergency financial managers. Then the union contracts can be nullified.  All without legislation.

Wisconsin gets the attention and Walker takes the heat.  Meanwhile, Snyder moves quietly, counting on people not connecting the dots until it’s too late and it’s done.  It’s important to maintain collective bargaining.

Michigan Unemployment – Relatively Better

The December state-by-state unemployment rates were released today.  Michigan, which led (?) the nation for many years with the highest rate until mid-2010 when Nevada overtook it, has dropped in the rating.  In December, Michigan’s rate dropped 0.7  points from November.  Michigan’s unemployment rate has now dropped 2.8 percentage points in the last 12 months, by far the best improvement in the nation.  Overall, the story for the nation is that most states, (35) have had no significant change during the past two years.  Of the remaining, most worsened, although a few, notably Michigan, improved.  From the BLS via Calculated Risk:

From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary

Regional and state unemployment rates were generally little changed in December. … Nevada continued to register the highest unemployment rate among the states, 14.5 percent in December. The states with the next highest rates were California, 12.5 percent, and Florida, 12.0 percent. The Nevada rate was the highest in its series.

State Unemployment Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the high and low unemployment rates for each state (and D.C.) since 1976. The red bar is the current unemployment rate (sorted by the current unemployment rate). 

Woot! After 4 Years, We’re NOT No. 1!

Michigan has finally lost it’s title as the state with the highest unemployment rate.  The May numbers are out and Michigan’s rate has dropped to 13.6%.  Nevada takes the top spot now with 14.0%.  Michigan is continuing to move in the right direction since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, but danger still lurks ahead.  A double-dip recession could stall auto sales and the Michigan recovery in late 2010 or early 2011.  It’s a distinct possibility with declining US stimulus, a EuroZone determined to commit economic suicide, and increasing calls for “austerity” in the U.S.  As usual, Calculated Risk gives us a great graph and explanation:

From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary

Regional and state unemployment rates were slightly lower in May. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia recorded unemployment rate decreases over the month, 6 states had increases, and 7 states had no change, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. …

In May, nonfarm payroll employment increased in 41 states and the District of Columbia, decreased in 5 states, and was unchanged in 4 states.

Nevada reported the highest unemployment rate among the states, 14.0 percent in May. This is the first month in which Nevada recorded the highest rate among the states and the first time since April of 2006 that a state other than Michigan has posted the highest rate. The rate in Nevada also set a new series high. (All region, division, and state series begin in 1976.) The states with the next highest rates were Michigan, 13.6 percent; California, 12.4 percent; and Rhode Island, 12.3 percent.
emphasis added

State Unemployment Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the high and low unemployment rates for each state (and D.C.) since 1976. The red bar is the current unemployment rate (sorted by the current unemployment rate).

Sixteen states and D.C. now have double digit unemployment rates. New Jersey is close.

Nevada set a new series high at 14% and now has the highest state unemployment rate. Michigan held the top spot for over 4 years.