The Rose-Colored Glasses of Political Dusk

In a series of opinion editorials, outgoing Gov. Jennifer Granholm has painted an extremely rosy picture of the state that led the nation in unemployment for a sizable chunk of her term. Her newest article is no exception to this rule, so a reality check is in order.

In an "Open letter to Michigan citizens," the governor starts by noting that this past decade has been difficult:

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To address the sweeping economic challenge, my administration focused on three priorities over these past eight years: diversifying our economy, educating our citizens and protecting vulnerable people as we transition from an old Michigan economy to a new one.

Notice that Gov. Granholm does not list "jobs" as one of her administration's "priorities," and rightfully so: Michigan's job losses have been a disaster over her term, and she probably does not want to draw attention to this. Instead, the governor talks about "diversifying," "educating" and “protecting” — terms that sound good but are harder to measure.

Next, the governor notes how she worked for her goals. "To create jobs and diversify our economy, we targeted six emerging sectors for growth: clean energy, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, homeland security and defense, tourism and the film industry."

Gov. Granholm and her staff followed the example of every previous governor back to Kim Sigler in 1947, "targeting" a handful of industries with which they could "diversify" the state's economy. Ironically, this is exactly the opposite of what diversification really means. Indeed, the select areas targeted by the administration are responsible for only 0.25 percent of all new jobs created in the last decade.  

Gov. Granholm concludes her article on a few high notes, notably, "Our unemployment rate this year has dropped three times faster than the national rate."

But since Michigan lead the nation in unemployment for 49 straight months, this is not much of a feat. It is less difficult to improve from last place.

Like most politicians, the governor has consistently taken credit for all the good and shifted blame onto others for all the bad. Gov. Granholm and her staff have repeatedly blamed Michigan's "lost decade" on the decline of manufacturing and explained that her two terms have "laid the foundation" for the future economy by engaging in the above-mentioned economic policies.

Yet as Michael LaFaive has pointed out, Indiana had an economy even more reliant on manufacturing than Michigan, but did not suffer the decade-long recession. In fact, Indiana welcomed a new auto manufacturer in 2008 and has had an unemployment rate far lower that of its northern neighbor for the entire decade.

Gov. Granholm's exit interviews illustrate something written by economist Richard Fulmer:

Businesses, competing for consumer dollars in a free market, must deal with the world as it is in order to survive. Politicians, competing for constituent votes, spin facts to recreate the world as they want it to be in order to gain support for their policies, hide mistakes, and shift blame.

Most people deal with the real world, and Michiganders shouldn't be convinced that the economy right in front of their faces is a sign of progress.