Well, I’ve just done that, and I heartily recommend the book, which is much more interesting that it sounds. Michigan State University Press has just published Michigan’s Economic Future: A New Look, by economist Charles Ballard.
Don’t let the title put you off. Ballard is that rarest of creatures; a university economist who writes really well, the best, possibly, since John Kenneth Galbraith. He is a curious combination himself. Born in Midland, Michigan in the 1950s, he grew up largely in Texas. But he ended up coming back in 1983 to teach at Michigan State, where he is now a full professor, and has stayed ever since.
If your idea of university economist is that of a dry, stuffy, elitist intellectual, think again. Ballard‘s own research is appropriately academic. But he is also a real person, who was raised in a Protestant church, doesn’t mind quoting Scripture where appropriate, and is not afraid of sounding a bit corny. For example, he loves our state song, Michigan, My Michigan, and encourages readers to sing it every chance they get. My last chance, I believe, was third grade.
This is, however, a serious and very important book. What it does is lay out clearly exactly what has happened to our economy, where we stand now, and why. Neither dogmatic liberals or conservatives are going to find everything here easy to take.
Ballard has done academic work that has centered around showing how much damage high rates of taxation can solve. He agrees with most Republicans that the Michigan Business Tax is terrible and ought to be completely done away with.
So long, that is, as we replace the revenue. Ballard demonstrates decisively that those who think we are overtaxed now have been sold a bill of goods. Michigan once did have tax rates slightly higher than the national average.
But now, our rate of taxation has fallen dramatically, our infrastructure is falling apart, and the tax burden is falling disproportionately on the lower middle class and poor.
More than ever, the biggest single factor determining how successful in life one will be is their education level. Yet Michigan, which has a badly undereducated workforce, has led the nation in cuts to education, especially higher education, in recent years.
What’s worse, test scores indicate we are allowing the quality of elementary and high school instruction to slip as well.
This makes no sense. But while this book presents a sobering view of our problems, the author is remarkably optimistic. He concludes, “I firmly believe that we can have a much brighter future, both in terms of the economy and in other ways.”
We’ve got a lot going for us, he notes, from our workforce to our waterways. However, he adds, “to get to that brighter future, we’ll have to do things differently,” which means making hard choices.
We’re facing an important election next week, and Charley Ballard‘s been thinking about that too. Economists are seldom completely certain about anything, but he is certain what the most important quality is that our future leaders should have.
Especially now: Courage.