Have you ever wondered why Kentucky is always near the bottom when states are ranked by economic health and well-being?
There are several reasons. But one is that many of our politicians are either wealthy business executives who fund their own campaigns or people who suck up to wealthy business executives to fund their campaigns.
Either way, the interests of wealthy business executives are what become priorities, and they have as much in common with the interests of average Kentuckians as, well, night and day.
This is why politicians perpetuate several economic myths, and why many policies that would improve the economy and lives of many Kentuckians are rarely enacted. What are these myths?
To start with, business executives are not "job creators." In fact, executives often make more money and Wall Street rewards their companies when they cut jobs rather than create them.
The real job creators are average people who buy the goods or services businesses produce. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of all economic activity and indirectly drives much of business capital spending and investment. The more money people have to spend, the more jobs will be created.
Many successful executives also keep wages for everyone but themselves as low as possible to boost "efficiency" and profits. That's why average people should beware of politicians who are against increasing the minimum wage, which has declined in value for decades as executive compensation has soared.
Opponents always argue that raising the minimum wage would do more harm than good, but decades of experience has shown otherwise. Raising the minimum wage also leads to higher pay for other low-wage workers, giving more people more money to spend and boosting the economy.
Beware of politicians who advocate so-called "right to work" laws. These laws aren't really about protecting anybody's "right to work"; they are about weakening unions and protecting big employers' "right" to pay workers as little as possible.
Beware of politicians who rail against government regulation. Sure, you can always find examples of over-regulation. But regulation keeps business executives from cheating and hurting the rest of us and ruining the environment we all share.
It is no coincidence that America's economy was most prosperous in the decades when average workers' wages were higher, unions were stronger and government was a watchdog of business instead of a lapdog.
Things started changing in the 1980s with "pro-business" policies and "trickle-down" economic theories that resulted in the highest level of wealth inequality in nearly a century, not to mention the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and a slow, uneven recovery.
Beware of politicians who want to abolish "Obamacare." They want to take health care away from several hundred thousand Kentuckians with no plan to replace it other than vague promises of "free-market" solutions.
The free market has never provided good health care for low-wage people. Most hospitals and clinics began as charities, not businesses. Almost every other industrialized nation has a health care system run largely by government, delivering better care at less cost than our private insurance-based system.
Beware of politicians who are "friends of coal." Kentucky will continue mining and burning coal for decades, but coal is the past, not the future. Most coal jobs will never return. Repairing coal's damage to Kentucky will be a huge, costly challenge, and we don't need to make the mess any bigger than it already is.
Renewable energy is the future, and the more Kentucky politicians deny climate change and cling to the past to protect coal-industry profits, the further behind this state will fall.
What Kentucky needs are leaders willing to invest in education, entrepreneurship, economic infrastructure beyond just highways and the social services necessary to keep average people healthy and able to work.
We need leaders with enough courage to create a modern tax system that grows with the economy and eliminates special-interest loopholes that sap government of the resources needed to address Kentucky's many challenges.
As you listen to the candidates for governor seek your vote in the May 19 primary and Nov. 3 general elections, ask yourself this question: When they promise prosperity for Kentucky, whose prosperity are they talking about? Yours or theirs?