What State Do We Want to Be Like?

One of the key questions I think we should ask every 2010 candidate is “if your economic development strategy works, what state would Michigan look like?” We need to know what kind of future economy they envision for the state.

Turns out to be a hard question to answer for candidates of both parties. The Democrats largely want to recreate a high wage, factory-based economy. What made us prosperous in the past. Unfortunately there are no states today with that kind of economy. Factory-based states, by and large, are now low income states.

The Republicans largely campaign on some combination of lower taxes, smaller government and weaker unions. But once again the states characterized by those policies are predominantly low income and low education attainment states.

As you know our answer is a state like Minnesota which is both high income (our goal) and high education attainment. Education attainment is a (if not the) key asset that allows a state to be over concentrated in the knowledge-based economy which now is both the high wage and growing part of the American economy.

One answer to beware of is we should adopt state X’s policies because they have done better than Michigan this decade. All states have done better than Michigan this decade. So the question is “of the forty nine other states that have done better than us which one is the model for where you want to take Michigan?”

Recently the Mackinac Center using this kind of flawed logic took Governor Granholm to task for saying that Michigan didn’t want to become Mississippi. Mississippi is the poorest state in the country, with high poverty rates and low education attainment. The Governor is right. Who wants to be like them? What an awful vision for Michigan: one of the poorest states in the country.

Our goal should be to be one of the most prosperous states in the country. Those are the kind of states we should be learning from. Lets find out which candidates from both parties want to take us there.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.