Dismiss the political noise. Wisconsin’s issues run deeper.
IF POLITICIANS deserve all the credit (or blame) for job creation (of lack thereof) then this is how it goes together in Wisconsin:
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson can take a bow, because Wisconsin consistently exceeded national job-growth rates in the 1980s and through the mid-1990s.
Former Govs. Scott McCallum and Jim Doyle can absorb a few boos, because Wisconsin began slipping and subsequently trailed national rates in the first decade of the new millennium.
And Gov. Scott Walker can join McCallum and Doyle, as Wisconsin continues to be outperformed by the national rate of job growth. Between June 2010 and June 2012 the United States experienced 2.8 percent job growth while Wisconsin came in at 2.3 percent. Wisconsin scored in the lower fifth of states in job creation. And in new business start-ups, Wisconsin ranked a dismal 49th, ahead of only Iowa.
THE STUDY WAS RELEASED by the respected Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. So what does it mean?
To begin with, politicians on both sides of the partisan divide grossly exaggerate their role in growing the economy and creating private-sector jobs. The fact that so many people put stock in such nonsense illustrates just how good politicians really are at flimflamming the public.
Think about it. When the economy is growing and jobs are plentiful — yes, there have been times like that — politicians from Washington to Madison and all points between rush to the microphones and cameras to take credit, claiming it’s all because of the wonderful and wise policies they pursued.
But when times are tough, layoffs abound and jobs are hard to find anywhere, those politicians get very camera-shy. When cornered they say their opponents policies were so bad, and the economic currents are so difficult, that even their wise and wonderful policies will take more time to succeed.
Silly us, the American people, we nod our heads up and down and agree with whichever partisan side we lean toward.
THE TRUTH, according to the Taxpayers Alliance study, is more complicated. While politics can influence the business climate, conditions outside the marbled halls of government matter most. Two factors stand out, the WTA says:
• We’re just too old. Wisconsin’s workforce is graying quickly. The working-age population is growing a full one-third slower than the national average. Businesses need workers — the right workers — if they’re going to create jobs. Here’s the scary part: Growth in the workforce is expected to slow even more, because of demographic trends.
• That anemic business start-up number — call it risk aversion, if you will — is a serious drag on growth. Job creation follows entrepreneurial activity.
It has long been said that Wisconsin’s number-one export is its educated young people, who get a world-class education at the University of Wisconsin system — or great private schools such as Beloit College or Marquette University — before being swept up by out-of-state employers. The WTA study shows just how much Wisconsin needs to turn that around.
AS FOR THE POLITICIANS, Wisconsin citizens need one thing out of them: Fight less and do more. Stop trying to take the credit or assign the blame. The constant bickering and prickly partisanship misses the point and, if anything, makes things worse by stirring the pot and fueling uncertainty and risk aversion.
That plainspoken gentleman from Missouri, the late President Harry S. Truman, said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Is it too much to ask that our politicians apply that principle to growth and job creation?
But we’ll ask anyway.