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A Trip to Michigan
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As Jim Thompson observed in his recent editorial (“The Pulse of the Nation”), you need to venture out into the nation to get a more complete perspective on the current state of affairs.

I traveled to Michigan for my high school class reunion this past weekend, a casual event attended by perhaps a third of the class. My wife and I flew from Atlanta, Georgia, to Flint, Michigan. There and back the planes were full and the Atlanta airport was crowded with as many people as I’ve seen at any time before. (Perhaps a positive sign?)

Like Jim, we found waitresses and sales persons to be friendly, helpful, and polite nearly everywhere we shopped and visited. (One might, per Jim, read this as an indicator of a weak economy.)

While in Michigan, we visited with several relatives, all affected to various degrees by current healthcare, economic, and legislative issues.

For example, several weeks ago, the ladder my brother was working on collapsed and he shattered his heel in the fall. All-in-all, the repair to his foot and treatment for a related infection has been around USD 100,000. My brother is self-employed, so the health insurance he does have (could afford) will cover much of the cost, less a very hefty deductable. Without work, without insurance, he would be facing serious financial difficulties. 

My cousin, who works as an electrician, belongs to the union, and is trying to get sufficient work-time in to maintain his health insurance. Work is available, but not enough throughout the year to keep all the electricians busy at the same time. It means he has to be careful about which jobs he accepts before getting rotated to the bottom of the crew list.

My aunt retired many years ago and has maintained her health coverage through her retirement benefits. On this visit, she questioned the wisdom of local officials whose initiatives to make the local town more attractive seem to ignore the reality of Michigan winters and the safety and convenience of local residents (As in, how are they going to clear the snow from street parking areas partitioned by planters and walkways?)

My aunt also has been doing genealogical research for many years. Among the busiest libraries in Michigan (as in most states) are those that house and provide access to genealogical records.  And yet, the state was planning to limit the library’s collection to documents only directly related to Michigan and to downsize the genealogical collection at the library.

While visiting my old high school (now extensively remodeled and functioning as a middle school), we wandered about downtown, where the main street had been blocked off for a “Buy Michigan Now” festival. The annual event is part of a campaign started a few years ago to help the state’s economy by educating residents about the benefits of buying locally. It’s a sound concept – buy locally (what you can) – to support and strengthen the local economy, except that so much of what we consume is now produced in far-off areas of the country and the world.

When I was growing up in Detroit, the city, region, and state were industrial giants. The nation’s industrial base was still strong when I moved to the suburbs, but much has changed since then, in Michigan and the nation, for varied and complex reasons. The loss of manufacturing obviously affected metro Detroit, and the nation has become weaker through recent decades as factories closed and manufacturing capacity has been relocated to other countries.

Certainly there are benefits to international trade, but achieving a healthy balance of payments (something that’s been lacking for at least a decade) requires that the United States also have goods to trade -- and products to sell locally.

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