Berning down the house

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Bernie Sanders traveled to Mississippi to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death. Along the way, he got distracted, turning his attention to the failures of the Democrats and President Obama

“The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure,’ said the Vermont Senator.

“People sometimes don’t see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama. He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy. But beyond that reality…”

There’s a fundamental question of (lack of ) political intelligence at work here: What we know about 2016 was that voters who voted for Obama ended up for the Orange Man.  Dissing Obama doesn’t help with that basic calculus, if anything it reveals an arrogance about the so-called progressive cause, an arrogance that is altogether too white.

Second, the Bernie comment simply feeds the separation of the progressive left — largely a suburban phenomena — and the urban communities of color. if there is one sure way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, this split is it. In Michigan in particular, the two communities need to work together to take back the key state offices, otherwise we get Gov Schuette.

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Habits of Mind

Whom communities vote for is largely structural in character; we can think of it as a sort of central tendency. So university towns lean one way, traditional CRC communities  consistently lean another way, and President or no, there is little reason for them to vote differently. The variability will be in their enthusiasm expressed in voting, funding, and volunteering – the stuff of retail politics.

For the Dutch community, who they vote for is less important than minding their own understanding of what holding political office means. This comes to the fore because of  the President and his highly transactional value system which corrodes approaches based on principle, or for that matter, custom. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Dutch involvement in politics in Michigan has been the willingness to hold to broader goods than just partisanship. At its best, this resulted in a more rounded, more three-dimensional approach to politics and the societal problems politics sought to address.  This value system with its sense of the public good is something that should be nurtured, even as the approaches that would corrode it (e.g.. a certain President, or a tendency to identity politics) be resisted.

Will they risk it?

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John Austin at the Michigan Economic Center has a plan: build Michigan’s economy by investing in our universities, the State’s singular “innovation ecosystem,” as MLive explains,

Austin recommends altering Michigan’s economic development platform to invest further in what he called the “innovation ecosystem.”

“Incentive dollars (to get companies to move to Michigan) are not very effective in economic development,” Austin said. Instead, he said, a $20 million shift to create an innovation investment fund could attract four times that amount from private investors – and, with reinvestment, turn into a billion-dollar jobs engine.

“That’s an easy one to do,” Austin said. “The venture and innovation community in Michigan is foursquare behind building this.”

Seems like such an easy thing to do, invest in our schools and not in business handouts, too bad we’re missing a Legislature willing to make the deal.

6 industries that promise most growth for Michigan’s economy

 

 

 

Public Wealth

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Even with the lowest unemployment since John Engler, Michigan is grumpy, notes John Gallagher. University of Michigan economist, Donald Grimes has a suggestion, maybe it’s a function of shift in consumer prices. The TV is cheaper so we buy a bigger one. Or gas is cheaper, meantime other prices rise, and so our stress.
“If there continues to be this wide divergence in price inflation for different goods and services, I don’t think people are ever going to feel that their real incomes are going up very much,” (Grimes) said. “They are going to continue to feel financially stressed to pay for the things that are going up in price relatively quickly, because they aren’t going to have money freed up by spending less on the things that are going down in price.”
Another answer may be the decline of public goods. If the public goods don’t keep up, then all we are left with is ourselves, our condition — so the economist may be right. Over this time frame what has happened in the public sector? It has been deliberately under-funded through a thicket of tax shifts. Citizens of Michigan pay more and get less, and their legislators piosly proclaim they can do nothing about it.
 
So perhaps the solution is to increase taxes a bit more and in turn make sure we have good roads, better schools, parks that are well kept and the like. We may have to forego the TV, but when we step outside, when we travel through our great state, we can feel a little better (or at least not be so continually jostled).

It was 20 years ago today…

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Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.

A Better State

After a year of conversations and polling, the Center for Michigan paints a grim picture of the confidence of citizens in the state government. The conversation is pitched toward the upper middle class, the traditional good-government folk. Phil Powers wrestles with the survey’s impact:

Lurking behind these surface attitudes, as disturbing as they might be, lies a far more worrisome and pervasive attitude: Michiganders are losing confidence in the very workings of their political and governmental apparatus, the very basic things that enable a civil society and help generate a thriving state. Peter Pratt, CEO of Public Sector Consultants (of which the Center for Michigan is a client), which helped administer the data collection for this study, put it this way: “If this level of distrust continues or worsens, how are we going to have democratic government?”

There is no easy way out. At best it requires regions like the Grand Rapids metro area to engage in more in-depth conversations across partisan lines. The growing region will need to shape a common understanding about what is best for the state, however to do so will require putting aside the conventional small business, and too-small conservative solutions. The best that can be hoped for is that representatives begin to share in a common framework. We certainly need that for our schools and roads. And Michigan definitely needs it for its future.

 

Private Public Partnership

 

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One of the features of the Midwest landscape is the dense combination of state universities and small colleges. This certainly comes from the old Yankee heritage coupled with immigrant identities.

While the ideal of the private college is shaped by New-England-in-the-Fall preppy image, the reality is quite different, as Michael Chingos points out in his report at EducationNext. Among the findings:

Private colleges serve a similar proportion of low-income students as public colleges, and low-income students have higher economic mobility rates at private colleges (although this may be due to their greater selectivity).

This is certainly good news for the many small colleges such as Aquinas or Hope (show above). But for the state of Michigan overall, there is another sobering statistic. Michigan colleges, public and private, struggle in their ability to promote economic mobility. the economic success rate for the public institutions is 29%, a notch above the national average of  28%. And the story for private schools is significantly worse: their success rate is a sobering 20%. For a state that seeks to regain its economic mojo, both figures need to increase.