Economic Development a Campaign Tool

The Washington Post editorialized recently that President Barack Obama set a goal of 1 million electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015. Just last year, the Obama administration’s Department of Energy produced a report that said, “The goal is achievable.”

These projections turned out to be wildly incorrect.

The DoE thought General Motors alone would make 120,000 Chevy Volts in 2012. Instead, there are about 21,000 Volts total on the road and GM just announced that it was shutting down parts of production for the vehicle because of low sales. And this despite massive state and federal government subsidies for the car.

Political promises are cheap because they involve a disconnected third party spending money that does not belong to them — it’s always easier to gamble with someone else’s cash. This isn’t unique to Washington, and it infects both political parties.

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In Michigan, the best example is the bipartisan disaster known as the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The Mackinac Center and its news publication Michigan Capitol Confidential have documented hundreds of examples where political promises failed to live up to the hype. The MEDC’s own YouTube channel, documenting the “best” examples of its success, is a playlist of cronyism failures. Despite this, the program chugs on and garners support from across the aisle.

Economist Thomas Sowell points out why politicians are poor central planners, yet continue to try: "No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind."

So-called economic development programs are one of the easiest ways for politicians to look like they are “doing something” for the economy. And a complacent media that always covers the projections but rarely the failures doesn’t help.

Until these programs are ended and when politicians who claim to support the free market begin to practice what they preach, expect to see more of the same failures.

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