Encouraging Job Creation in Claycomo, Mo. Louisville, Ky.
It appears that the company figured out how to secure tax credits from the state government without increasing the level of employment. Ford is sending one line to Kentucky, but it is starting a new line in Kansas City. Although the number of jobs will remain constant, the company will continue to receive financial assistance from the state. Failing to deliver on promises, in terms of job creation and economic activity, is unfortunately a pervasive problem in Missouri. From an article in the Kansas City Business Journal:
The automobile side of the Kansas City Assembly Plant will cease production sometime during the fourth quarter of 2011, soon after the Louisville Assembly Plant in Kentucky begins production of the next-generation Ford Escape.
The effect on the 3,700 hourly employees in Kansas City remains unclear. However, Missouri state officials seem to expect some downtime at the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo., creating an opportunity for a big retooling in preparation for a new product.
Ford has a long history of pitting states against each other, so this news is not particularly surprising. The company has a pattern of securing millions in incentives from state governments, then shutting down operations and leaving the state unless it can secure additional incentives. Taxpayers, of course, are left to pick up the tab.
Don’t forget that the state of Michigan issued $909 million in incentives to Ford in October.
I find it disconcerting that the state government has a working relationship with the company in its operations. According to a statement from Gov. Jay Nixon’s office:
We have been working closely with senior Ford officials for months to make sure the vehicles of the future are manufactured at the Claycomo plant, and it’s clear that our hard work will pay real dividends for Kansas City and suppliers in communities across Missouri. We look forward to putting the finishing touches on this agreement in the coming weeks. Automotive manufacturing has a bright future in the Show-Me State.
Government officials can attempt to anticipate what the most efficient solution to a given problem will be — but, in all likelihood, they will get it wrong. This is because no individual has access to perfect information. As the Show-Me Institute’s editor Eric Dixon explained in the comment section of a recent post, the likelihood that an individual is wrong increases as he becomes further removed from the decentralized feedback loops that markets provide. Nixon and state policymakers are too far removed from the business of manufacturing vehicles to know the optimal state of the market. Missourians would be better off if the state government stayed out of this particular market, and instead allowed market forces to work.
This reminds me of the following concept that Henry Hazlitt describes in Economics in One Lesson. I cite this classic work frequently because it relates to many public policy issues in Missouri. I referenced this passage in a recent post in which I argued that government non-intervention is the optimal job creation strategy. Hazlitt wrote:
When providing employment becomes the end, need becomes a subordinate consideration. “Projects” have to be invented. Instead of thinking only where bridges must be built, the government spenders begin to ask themselves where bridges can be built.
Would the Claycomo plant stay open in the absence of the subsidy from the state of Missouri? If it would not, then the plant is, essentially, an invented project that is maintained because it can be, rather than because it satisfies a market demand. The fact that the new line has yet to be determined makes me wonder whether the project is in the process of being invented.