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Commentary: Two States of Michigan


I heard some interesting ideas about our economic future on Mackinac Island last week at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual conference of the state's movers and shakers. 

The two speakers who impressed me most were two internationally famous journalists: The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and CNN and Time Magazine's Fareed Zakaria.
Friedman, now in his late fifties, said he tells his daughters something I try constantly to impress on my students. "We (baby boomers) had to find a job," he said. "But you will have to invent a job." That is to say, young graduates today are going to have to be entrepreneurial if they are ever to rise about poorly paid and insecure routine work.

Zakaria, who specializes in economics and foreign affairs, had what was generally an optimistic message in these times of economic scarcity. The good news, he said, was that much of the bad news is wrong. Most of the
gloom-and-doom economic forecasts over the past twenty-five years haven't come true.

Not only has the economy shown surprising resilience, the world is now operating on what amounts to a single economic system, since the fall of Soviet communism. And while the European economic crisis is real, it is also worth noting that for the first time in modern history, no country is suffering from the sort of hyperinflation that repeatedly wrecked South American economies just a few years ago.

That doesn't mean there aren't warning signs ahead. We are running record deficit. Zakaria thinks we in Michigan and this nation should actually be spending more money to invest in the future. That includes higher
education and infrastructure. But he takes a dim view of borrowing to keep our consumption levels high, and said entitlement programs, such as welfare and pensions for the infirm and elderly may need to be reduced.

That may sound logical. But my mind went back to my lunch recently in a tough part of Detroit with Rashida Tlaib, a state representative from a gritty district that runs along the Detroit River. Tlaib is the first of fourteen children born to Palestinian immigrants, and is the only Muslim woman in the legislature.

She is thirty-five, and was a student of mine before she decided she could make more of a difference in law than journalism. She didn't go to Mackinac. Her husband works on the assembly line, and they have two small
children. Plus, she was busy in Lansing, trying to get a bill passed to regulate scrap metal dealers. She wants to outlaw, among other things, buying copper that looks like thieves burned houses down to get the metal out. When she?s home, she can sometimes be found with a bullhorn and a neighborhood group, trying to drive prostitutes and their customers away.

For many of her constituents, government programs are all they have. They want to work, but they are never going to start salsa companies and software businesses.

Yet they are part of our society. I don?t think many of those at Mackinac were thinking about them. But I think next year, those running the Mackinac conference ought to invite Rashida too. We all might get an education from what she'd have to say.

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