A new study on Michigan’s 2011 Pure Michigan advertising campaign repeats the common ploy of using  "multiplier" analyses to defend some line items in the state budget. This technique is often used to justify government spending on everything from public transportation to film subsidies.

Multiplier analyses take some economic activity and estimate its net economic impacts. For example, it looks at something like a customer buying a pair of shoes, and estimates what effect the retailer's use of the proceeds from the sale has as that money flows through the economy. Though they often use overblown and sometimes erroneous assumptions, the real problem with such analyses is they rarely ask where the spending comes from in the first place (where did the shoe buyer get the money to buy the new pair, for example).

There are economic consequences to all actions — you can’t drop a dollar bill on a sidewalk without affecting commerce. In this case, the money taken from Michigan taxpayers to pay for tourism ads has an impact that's not considered by the economic models used to justify the ads.

These models are better used to compare spending items, all others being equal (which they never are). For instance, the multipliers from this item can be compared to those of arts subsidies, whose proponents argue that they have a 51-times multiplier.

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Government Initiative

Multiplier: "job creation"

 RASCO corporate subsidy


 Transit Spending


Transportation spending



Government Initiative

Multiplier (in dollars): "increased economic activity"

 Arts Grants


Early Childhood Education


Earned Income Tax Credit


 Film Subsidies


 Tourism Advertising


 Transit Spending



While multiplier analyses potentially could be used to weigh the economic consequences of different government spending programs, they appear most in the public arena to justify taking taxpayer resources.


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Jim Riley got his own fiscal house in order so he could retire. Now he wonders why his city government can’t do the same for their employees, and taxpayers who could end with huge bills from the unfunded retirement liabilities.

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