Michigan’s Left Needs an Economic Plan


I think the Michigan Left sorely needs an interim strategy for the state. Specifically I’m talking about economic policy, not because economics is the only important aspect of life, but because the state is deep in economic crisis. If the Left does not have some kind of coherent, well-thought-out plan of its own, and just relies on whatever reactive "get-our-people-in-office-and-all-will-be-well" strategy Michigan Dems come up with, I think we are likely to see a Republican takeover of the governorship, further Republican takeover of the state legislature, and of Michigan’s federal congressional seats as well. Whether these are Michigan’s classic "right-wing crazy" Republicans like Pete Hoekstra, or new "independent", socially-moderate Republicans from IT like Rick Snyder, their goals seem to be to gut any last remnants of social democracy in the state– destroy environmental protections, adopt anti-union "right-to-work" laws, cut consumer protections– all supposedly to attract jobs back to the state. From my admittedly limited polling, I think just enough people– even working class people– would support them in this atmosphere of crisis to sweep Republicans into office in 2010-2012, just as we saw in Massachusetts in the past few weeks.

The kind of policy strategy I think we need would have at least the following elements (obviously I don’t have the actual answers, not being an economist, otherwise I would fill in the blanks below) :

  • Michigan should do X to keep jobs in Michigan, and to bring new jobs to the state. This is based on economic reasoning V, Y, and Z.
  • Despite what mainstream economic wisdom and almost all of Michigan’s business class and newspapers say, it will make things far worse to destroy unions, lower taxes on the rich and corporations, gut consumer protections, and gut environmental protections in an effort to attract business. Justifications for this statement would include arguments like the following: skill/education-alone is not enough argument, Keynesian arguments that cutting wages in working-class jobs lowers aggregate demand and thus will deepen the recession further, moral arguments that workers have a right to self-organization, environmental crisis arguments against cutting environmental protections, "race to the bottom" arguments against all of the above right-wing goals….
  • The following standard argument from the peace movement could be used: the U.S. would be in much less fiscal trouble (and thus have more money to provide to states) if the U.S. was not spending enormous amounts of money to act as the global hegemon, involved in 3 wars (Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, numerous other conflicts).

I’m all for bold new innovative small-scale startup-like "businesses" (some perhaps run as Parecon co-ops or other co-ops instead of as traditional businesses). But I don’t think the Michigan Left can afford to rely on "smalll business" alone for its strategy. Our strategy needs to address ?the majority of? workers who work now and will continue to work in large enterprises, such as large corporations, small franchises of large corporations, universities, etc, in addition to addressing the huge and growing number of unemployed people in the state.

I assume that the Left is in a similar situation in other rust belt states, where the working class is dealing with a loss of manufacturing jobs and fervent anti-union rhetoric. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I know a little about their political situation. Perhaps Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, even parts of upstate New York, are in the same boat? A coherent Left economic strategy is needed for these states as well.

Does anyone know if something like this is already in the works? Or if there are left economists in Michigan (Tom Weisskopf? Frank Thompson?) who would be willing to work on it? Or am I wrong, and do Michigan Democrats have a specific plan that addresses some of the points I raised above? I just have the feeling that if we do not have something specific to point people to– whether politicians or regular people– even more ideas of the right-libertarian Mackinac Center will be put in place in Michigan.

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