Mike Dukakis is firing back at Gov. Rick Perry for his jab at Mitt Romney last night.
Perhaps you remember the moment:
Former Gov. Dukakis tells the Boston Globe "All I know is that Perry was nice enough to compare my economic record with Romney's. But then, it would be very difficult not to do better than Romney's."
The reality? Politicians take too much credit -- and dish too much blame -- for things.
The early 1980s were a great time for Dukakis' home state but not because of anything Dukakis did. It was more the ebb and flow of an economy.
True, the state had lost lots of jobs in the '60s and '70s as the state's textile mills moved to the Carolinas.
But the explosion in jobs during the "Masschusetts Miracle," as it was called, had more to do with luck. Dukakis and other politicians rode the coattails of some small companies that struck it big with a nation entering the computer age. Digital Equipment, Apollo, Data General, Lotus Wang Labs, Prime Computer, and Polaroid were the big employers of the time.
The unemployment rate in Massachusetts then was 2.7%
Why those companies were there in the first place, however, offers a more instructional view of the economy -- and how jobs are created (rather than stolen from somewhere else) -- than punch lines at political debates attest.
The answer: That's where MIT was. And Harvard. That's where the smart people were. If they'd been in Texas, maybe the companies would've been located in Texas, too.
Today, however, only four companies in the top 10 list of employers in the state have anything to do with technology. The rest are mostly headquarters of retailers who provide low-level wages -- TJ Maxx (1) Staples (#2, that's Romney's company), BJ's Wholesale.
There is one health-care industry in the list, spawned, perhaps, by the Boston-area's hospital industry.
How much did a governor have to do with any of that? Not much, really.
Texas at the moment is hot, and part of it may have to do with political policies. Low housing prices and low taxes have encouraged companies to move there. Minnesota, for example, lost a fair number of high-paying railroad jobs when Burlington Northern merged with Santa Fe and everything moved south.
But that's not really creating jobs; that's moving jobs and while that distinction might be downplayed at the gubernatorial level, it can't be ignored at the presidential level. Taking a job from Minnesota, for example, and putting it in Texas hasn't created a job.
Lost in the assessment of the economy from the 1980s, is that its success depended on smart people with big ideas.
To the extent we're running short of jobs right now, perhaps it's because we're tapped out on big ideas.
Anybody got one?
Also an example of why it's so important to have strong higher education options in a state.
Most of the Burlington Northern HQ jobs were gone long before the Santa Fe merger. First to Seattle in the early '80s, then to Fort Worth later in that decade. The Santa Fe merger didn't happen until '96, and it didn't really impact the Minnesota job scene a whole lot.
One more of many Fortune 500 corporate headquarters lost from the Twin Cities.
The last 8 years of repeated huge cuts have set the University of Minnesota back to funding levels of the 90's. You don't do that if you want the technology and brainpower of the start-ups like Medtronics (a UM spinoff) to create "jobs jobs jobs."
The "leaders" in St. Paul have abdicated their role to support higher ed to the point where they still like to dictate how the UM president runs the shop even though the state is now only a minority stakeholder. Very troubling.
I started writing a post about how neither politicians or higher ed create jobs but that is not a big idea just simple economics.
Here is your big idea...why don't we strive for less jobs? We get 60 good years on this planet and we strive very hard to fill up a quarter of each of those years with a job or cramming our heads with stuff so we can get a job.
It might mean driving a car for 8 years instead of 5, rediscovering the natural beauty of formica and linoleum, vacationing in the Dells instead of Orlando. It might mean less time rushing to meetings but there is more time for pulling trout out of the Root River. Give up CNBC in the morning and listen to the Current. Obama can keep his Jobs, jobs, jobs...I want my time with a novel and a glass of tea.
I have several that I think add up to something like a platform. The idea is that the economy needs a transformation, a restructuring that is a process rather than a recovery that we all sit around and wait for.
A good way to create jobs is to invest in higher education and infrastructure, so private sector companies can have a highly skilling work force and easily move goods and information great distances. Too bad these types of investments take longer than an election cycle to pay off, so it is difficult to get politicians to do them.