Deciding which issues to tackle and how to vote accordingly is as cumbersome for voters as it is for politicians. On Nov. 2, 2010, exactly one year from today, Michigan voters will elect three statewide officials, including a new governor, and dozens of representatives and senators. The issues involved in this election will include Michigan's high unemployment, high taxes, less than average income levels, failing school districts and relative economic decline. As a result, voters should be looking to liberty and limited government as guidance for casting their vote.

Politicians' attempts to bring economic development to the state have only made matters worse. Instead of improving Michigan's woes, government efforts to pick winners and losers in the marketplace have consistently failed to bring long-term results.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. was formed in 1999 and operates with millions of taxpayer dollars annually. A program administered by the MEDC, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, offers tax incentives and other subsidies in order to lure or retain businesses. Mackinac Center fiscal policy analyst James Hohman explains, "Since the MEDC was created, 16 percent of Michigan jobs have disappeared. [Michigan] is the only state that produces less than it did 10 years ago."  

It is unfortunate that rather than take on the heavy lifting of reforming Michigan's oppressive tax, labor and regulatory climate, the Legislature is reduced to offering what amounts to bribes in order to attract industry. Consider that:

  • Michigan was ranked 16th among the 50 states in per-capita state GDP in 1999, the year the MEDC was formed. The state has since tumbled to 41st.
  • From 1999 through 2008, Michigan was the only state in the union with a negative state GDP growth rate.
  • Michigan's per-capita personal income ranking has tumbled from 16th to 34th since 1999 and is now 11.2 percent below the national average, the lowest point it has reached since the start of the Great Depression, when such record-keeping began.

Michigan's unemployment rate has been hovering around 15 percent since June and has been highest in the nation for 43 consecutive months. State tax credits and subsidies were granted to the film industry last year to the tune of $48 million in the name of creating jobs, but only 254 full-time jobs were in fact created when the figures are annualized.

The state tax burden in Michigan costs the average resident $3,691 per year. This money is used to fund programs like the Michigan film incentive and the MEDC — programs that have failed to deliver on their stated goals. While tax dollars are being used to support failing programs and industries, taxpayers are drowning in a destructive cycle of higher taxes, government burden and limited opportunity.

Michigan also is harmed by a Legislature that refuses to adopt right-to-work protections for employees and clings to a prevailing wage statute that limits contracting options for the public sector and drives up costs.

We need to return to the principles upon which America was founded in order to reclaim our economic prosperity. In the summer of 1775, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed "Our attachment to no nation upon earth should supplant our attachment to liberty." Greater liberty means greater freedom of choice for employees and small business owners and comes only with limited government power. When our tax money is used to make arbitrary decisions about what is best for Michigan, we are surrendering our liberty to those who we should have elected to instead protect our freedom.

As Michiganders, we need to be conscious about our attachment to liberty. It was the desire for liberty that made America prosperous. Jobs were not created by government subsidies and tax credits, or state programs funded with tax dollars, but by men and women with the freedom to invest their money where they thought it would be most beneficial for themselves and others.

We shouldn't elect representatives based on how they are going to spend billions more of our hard-earned money, or our children's and grandchildren's future incomes. Representatives should be elected to restore and protect liberty by instituting policies that allow individuals the ability to choose for themselves who is worthy of their time and money. More liberty means lower taxes, less spending, and the choice to work outside the influence of union compulsion.

If we want to see economic recovery in Michigan, and throughout America, we need to reinstate and reaffirm our attachment to liberty and limited government by voting for candidates who exhibit the same passionate affirmation for individual freedom. Development and growth will follow.

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Claire Forman is research assistant to the president at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.