Rights work

December 12, 2012 | By BRIAN HODGES

Writing for salon.com, Edward McClelland says that Michigan’s new right-to-work law shows that the state has decided to give in to its economic plight and become a “low-wage haven . . . [t]he kind of place that attracts chicken processors, not software engineers.”  In his view, the right-to-work law represents the consummation of a long economic slide, and will forever relegate Michigan to backwater status.  (See the crack about “Michissippi” in the last line).

Like most former Michiganders (including me), McClelland laments the slump that occurred during the 2000s which caused Michigan to lose residents, college graduates, and per capita income.  But he never acknowledges that Michigan was heavily unionized during that period.  And apart from a vague reference to “globalization,” McClelland fails to consider what is the source of Michigan’s inability to take advantage of new “21st-century” economic opportunities, or why Detroit lies in ruin, or even why he could not find a job in the land of “decent wages and middle-class dignity” 25 years ago, long before there was any serious chance of passing a right-to-work law in the Wolverine State.

Now, before the ink has dried on the new law, McClelland is blaming it for a second emigration.  In this respect, McClelland is merely making a point without proving it.  The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has documented the actual effects of right-to-work laws, and their findings belie McClelland’s dire prediction.  Mackinac’s research demonstrates that:

  1. Between 2000 and 2011, right-to-work states saw an increase of 11.3% in the number of young workers (ages 25-34);
  2. Employee compensation in right-to-work states grew 12% between 2001 and 2011, but grew only 3% over the same period in states without right-to-work; and
  3. Right-to-work states created 72% of all net household job growth from June 2009 to September 2012.

Numbers aside, PLF understands that the most important element of a healthy economy is liberty.  This means that the law should protect each individual’s right to earn a living free from arbitrary government interference.  It should protect each person’s right to freely associate or not associate with a union as she sees fit.  And it should ensure that no person is compelled to fund an organization she does not support as a condition of employment.  Those are the principles we fight for.  They work.