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.

Gov. Rick Snyder Invokes the Magic Job Genie

The mantra of Republican governors (and in Congress) has been that taxes must be cut in order to create jobs.  In previous posts I’ve dealt with the confusion about how federal level changes income taxes  might or might not affect the strength of the economy. Most of the federal tax discussion focuses on individual income taxes.  But at the statehouse level, Republican governors have been pounding a theme that claims business tax cuts will drive economic growth in general and job creation in particular.

In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder has just pushed through a massive restructuring of Michigan taxes.  The old Michigan Business Tax (a complicated scheme applying to all businesses) was repealed.  In it’s place is a new corporations-0nly 6% profits tax. The new tax collects only a small fraction of the revenue the old tax did, so individual tax burdens have been increased, particularly on seniors and low-income folks.  In summary, it is a giant tax shift: lower taxes for businesses and higher taxes for individuals, especially the poor and seniors.

Why?  Jobs, we’re told. The Governor, a self-proclaimed very smart person (“nerd”), keeps telling people that Michigan needs new jobs and the way to create them is to cut business taxes.  Even before the new tax cuts were officially passed, the evidence is starting to come in that the idea doesn’t work, as shown here.  But the governor continues to claim jobs will result if we only cut business taxes.  I’m skeptical, but willing to listen.  After all, he’s a really smart person (his campaign ads keep telling us that, so it must be true, right?)  So I was very excited this morning as I’m driving to work  and listening to Michigan Public Radio  (recording of program as MP3 available here) to hear the Governor would be on the show live.  Maybe he could enlighten me about how this “tax cuts create jobs” stuff works.

The very first question was fantastic.  An alert listener asked (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “Precisely what empirical evidence exists that your business tax cuts will create additional jobs and just how many jobs should we expect?”  Snyder couldn’t give a straight answer.  He immediately responded with “It’s just a matter of basic economics. When a business have more money or resources it can create more jobs” (again paraphrase).

Unfortunately for the people of Michigan, Snyder has it all wrong.  That’s not basic economics.  He’s thinking basic accounting.  Basic economics says businesses will hire more workers when they perceive there’s demand (spending) for their product at profitable prices.  Taxes don’t really enter into it.  That’s not just basic economics theory, it’s also confirmed by repeated surveys of business managers.  Tax rates, particularly state tax rates, are waaaaay down the list of factors important in deciding on hiring and staffing levels.  Snyder should know better.  He himself, when he was CEO of Gateway Computers, moved the company from South Dakota, a low tax state, to California, a very high tax state?  Why would he have done that if taxes were so important?

The moderator, Rick Pluta, to his credit, didn’t bail out Snyder but moving quickly to the next question.  Instead we were treated to the Governor claiming that “it’s not possible to pinpoint exactly how many or which jobs might be created by the tax cuts, but we believe it will happen”.  That’s my point here. There is no evidence. There is no sound theory.  Instead, what we have is a faith-based policy.  We cut taxes for businesses in total and eliminated them completely for thousands of businesses in belief  that jobs will be created.  There’s no real evidence.  There’s just a belief in the magic jobs genie*.  The jobs genie only comes out when taxes are cut.  And when taxes are cut, the genie just magically appears and inspires businesses to go crazy and say “Hey let’s hire people. Let’s create jobs!”

Snyder then proceeded to offer his only empirical evidence. “We have some surveys where many of these small and medium businesses say they would consider creating new jobs in response to this bill”.  The Governor’s a lousy social scientist and economist.  Contrary to Snyder’s claims, it is possible to study and quantify this stuff.  Applied economists have done this stuff for decades. It’s our bread-and-butter.  There are  many studies on the jobs impact of state business tax cuts.  The evidence does not support Snyder’s position.  Indeed, contrary to his claims that they don’t know how many jobs will be created, the state treasurer and budget office must necessarily make estimates of state employment under different tax schemes in order to make budget forecasts.  Snyder is hiding because the evidence doesn’t support what he wants to claim.  He prefers to conjure magic beings like the jobs genie.

Snyder did say that employment is how he should be measured as governor.  What he didn’t say is that the appropriate measure is how much Michigan’s employment grows relative to the national average.  If the U.S. as a whole simply manages to not have a major recession while he’s in office, then Michigan employment will grow.  The U.S. economy as a whole is the dominant influence on Michigan employment, not what the state government does.  But, the policies of the state government have a major influence on whether the state does better or worse than national average.  For the last approx. 15 months, Michigan has performed significantly better than the national norm, albeit Michigan started in the worst condition.  (Nevada has that title now).  The clock is ticking now.  It’s up to Snyder to prove that, contrary to historical evidence and his own prior business decisions, that state business tax cuts will create faster than national average job growth.

* The magic Jobs Genie is only one of a pantheon of magical creatures that animate the economic theories of many politicians these days.  There’s also the Banking Unicorn and the Investment Confidence Fairy and others.  I’ll talk about those in future posts.

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.