Government Operating In Same Old Box

December 8, 2003
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Economic indicators released last week show manufacturing, with the exception of the lagging office furniture industry, has at last spurred ahead in almost unprecedented percentages. The Institute of Supply Management overall index of manufacturing surged from an expansive October index of 57 to 62.8 in November, and productivity is high.

The numbers are likely to drive consumer confidence in the near and long-term. Government, as the third leg of the economy, however, remains bleak not just as a result of revenue losses from the period now past, but in continued deficit spending on the federal level as well as potentially damaging new policy debate.

Government is operating in the same old box, further adding to the pain of private sector attempts to gain. Federal legislators, pushed by the governors of manufacturing states, still are pushing for creation of a U.S. Undersecretary of Manufacturing, believing that another bureaucrat ensconced in politics could ride herd on rules and regulations and match policy to the structure of manufacturing. Grand Rapids Business Journal is hard-pressed to believe politicians can improve the lot of any industrial sector. President George W. Bush late last week announced he would lift tariffs on foreign steel, one of the “trifectas” to which U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra refers as serious help for West Michigan. Hoekstra adds Federal Prison Industries policy and the Clean Air Act transport pollution issue to round out the three.

Would such policies have been avoided with a U.S. Undersecretary in charge? The lack of the will or want of politicians to address the real issues attending economic woes in Michigan is apparent in the continued provision of health care benefits in full for state and federal employees even as red ink overruns state programs, an inability to approve changes in the health care taxes imposed on business owners and the continued avoidance of union issues in regard to the effect on manufacturers, who continue to be forced by “world pricing” to cut costs and send assembly line jobs to foreign countries. The lack of state or federal policy in regard to retraining programs and the ability to fund education — let alone the science and technology programs so desperately needed in this country — are further example of the ineptitude that will continue under federal and state bureaucrats, U.S. Undersecretary or not.

None will be bold enough to rectify some of those causes of decline. The private sector is again prevailing, but we won’t wait long for the politicians to claim some credit for their work, even at the cost of jobs. Last week also brought the proclamation from Gov. Jennifer Granholm that implies she was announcing a major win in creating or retaining 32,000 manufacturing jobs in Michigan in 2003.

In truth, the kind of help necessary is not in the plans.    

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