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This article originally appeared in The Hill March 30, 2024.

The Biden administration recently announced $8.5 billion in subsidies to build Intel’s new semiconductor plants. It sounds like a terrific deal, as subsidies often do if you only listen to what politicians say when they are writing big checks to big companies. It secures good-paying jobs for workers. It protects the future of the country. It demonstrates that this is the place where people want to be. We are building economic momentum. Yada yada yada.

Ever see the protectionist maritime lobby mocked with photos from Spongebob Squarepants? If you’ve been following Shoshana Weissmann on X, formerly known as Twitter, you may have. Weissmann is the director of digital media for the R Street Institute, a free market think tank. I speak with her about advocating for policy through social media for the Overton Window podcast.

The state of Michigan is handing out $250 million in tax credits for low-income housing. The cost per housing unit? An astounding $236,000 each.

That’s more than the average value of a house in Michigan right now, which Zillow pegs at $232,500. In other words, taxpayers will dish out more per unit in subsidies than it costs to buy a whole house in Michigan.

West Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and now, Alabama. What do these states have in common?

School choice for all.

Alabama recently became the first state in 2024 to adopt education savings accounts, the most popular form of school choice. The state enacted the Creating Hope & Opportunity for Our Students’ Education (CHOOSE) Act. “We all want every Alabama student – no matter the zip code, no matter the school – to receive a quality education,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in her press release.

This article originally appeared in The Detroit News March 24, 2024.

School boards across the state have their work cut out for them. Leading a school district is hard enough, and now they must prepare to bargain with teachers' unions over subjects that have been off the table for more than 20 years.

If you read enough news stories about public health issues, they all start to sound the same. The headline warns us about a threat to our health. Public health officials attest that the threat is very real and advise us to be very careful, because it could happen to you or someone you love. They offer advice, such as scheduling an appointment with your doctor or getting a vaccine, if one's available.

One piece of advice given to young people who want to get involved in politics is to volunteer for political campaigns. There is a constant demand for extra help from campaigns, and this is how many people get their foot in the door in politics. On the Overton Window podcast, Luke Derheim, perennial volunteer turned campaign manager and legislative aide for state representative Bill G. Schuette (R-Midland), talks with us about the changing nature of legislative staff work.

The report put out in December by the Growing Michigan Together Council received much fanfare. Media stories were voluminous, and legislators rushed to invite council members to share their findings in public hearings. The report was praised as a “long-term plan of action,” “a set of guiding principles” “a set of actionable recommendations” that are “catalysts for change.”

US Route 10, which spans from Ludington to Bay City, is often considered where Michigan’s “Up North” begins. The stretch I drive most often is between Midland and Bay City, where US-10 meets I-75. The scenery is mostly farmland, but if you pay attention, the drive tells an important story about Michigan’s economy. Several prominent buildings that stick out among the corn fields show how the state’s economic strategies have shifted.

Four years ago, on March 24 at 12:01 a.m., Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put the entire state of Michigan into lockdown. She granted herself unilateral control of all social movement and activity, from Copper Harbor to Coldwater and everything in between. This was a grand and risky experiment, unprecedented in state history.

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an article from Dec. 15, 2009, written shortly after Dr. Borlaug passed away. It features a new introduction and is written to honor the man who would have been 110 years old on March 25, 2024.

In the winters, I spend my time officiating high school wrestling. Last year, while going through my pre-meet duties, I noticed a wrestler with the last name Borlaug. I asked him if he knew who Norman Borlaug was and was delighted to learn that wrestler was his great-nephew.

New energy laws will force Michigan residents to pay the equivalent of almost two additional mortgage payments each year.

What will people get in return? An energy policy that will have no measurable impact on the climate and make electricity less reliable.

Michigan’s economy is lagging behind that of the typical state right now, but our challenges go back many years. I hope these six charts help give a richer look at where Michigan stands and what lawmakers ought to do.

The first is a spotlight on auto and auto parts manufacturing jobs in Michigan compared to the number of auto jobs in the rest of the country.

Michigan’s budget since the COVID-19 pandemic has ramped up beyond what taxpayers can afford. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest budget keeps Michigan at those elevated, unsustainable levels. Legislators should correct this.

Lawmakers shouldn’t have a state budget that increases the state budget faster than the average taxpayer’s ability to pay for it. The question is: What is a good measure of how much taxpayers can afford? Spending an amount people can easily manage would keep the state government affordable, but spending more could be catastrophic, as it crowds out people’s opportunities to thrive.

While the federal policy debate can look stultified, some states are making huge changes. Over the past few years, Montana lowered taxes, conducted a Red Tape Relief Initiative, redid its housing regulations and more. I speak with Frontier Institute CEO Kendall Cotton about it for the Overton Window podcast.

Each year since 2008, the Mackinac Center has estimated the degree to which cigarettes are smuggled in and out of the Great Lake State, as well as other states. Our latest estimate is that 17.1% of all cigarettes consumed in Michigan in 2022 were a function of tax evasion and avoidance.

Should the state lower its debt payments into the school retirement system? Lawmakers are pondering it.

Over the course of several decades, the state accidentally made school employees the state’s largest creditors. They’ve promised $35 billion more in retirement benefits than they’ve set aside. In contrast, the bondholders who willingly lent the state money are only owed $25 billion.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent call for free community college for high school graduates is the latest part of her plan to have 60% of state residents have a degree or post-secondary certificate by 2030, up from about 50% today. But it will likely cost tens if not hundreds of millions each year and lead to disappointment for taxpayers and students alike.

Tax policy in Michigan makes no sense. It’s a seesaw that favors those who back the winning candidate in a general election. Members of each party work to deliver preferential tax treatment for supporters and buy favorable, job-related press coverage.

The way to bring down housing costs is simple: Increase the supply. It’s the most basic lesson in economics – demand for a product increases prices unless supply increases to meet it. If you want to bring prices down, you must increase supply.

There are other factors, but that principle is consistent across the literature on housing. But Michigan’s bureaucrats and elected officials, while occasionally talking the talk, have done very little to increase the supply of housing. Most of their actions have been the opposite – proposing laws that would only make it more expensive to build.

People skeptical of government overreach often look at a policy proposal and ask whether it reduces the amount of money the government has. If so, then it limits the government’s power and is a good idea.

Would that it were so simple.

It is good to have a healthy suspicion about public spending. Limited-government advocates ought to notice, however, that even a proposal that reduces government revenue can increase government power.

Lawmakers in Michigan are considering bills that would impose rent control on mobile home operators. Five bills before the Senate create many new regulations, including restrictions on owners of manufactured housing communities. Instead of determining their rental rates independently, they would have to submit any rent increases above the inflation rate to a state board for approval.

The cost of housing has increased, and it’s hard for builders to respond to demand for affordable homes. In many cities, all but the most expensive kind of housing has been banned. M. Nolan Gray, research director for California YIMBY — that’s Yes In My Back Yard — talks about the challenge of building modest housing for the Overton Window podcast.

Michigan lawmakers are debating and may repeal a little-known law called the Educational Instruction Access Act. The law was enacted in 2017 and owes its existence to school officials in Detroit who tried to prevent a charter school from using one of their vacated buildings — one they had already sold. All the law does is prohibit school districts from blocking a different school from using their former buildings.