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Sunday, September 25, 2016
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  • INDIANAPOLIS – A reader from Bloomfield wants economists to explain why free trade does not deliver benefits as advertised by politicians. Free trade is a concept, not a reality. It is much like other concepts so dear to some economists and most politicians, such as pure competition, open markets, free enterprise, level playing fields, the gold standard, and the ever-popular balanced budget.  But we do not live in the world of concepts. Our world has millions of people demanding protection from change. When they get that protection, it is usually at the expense of other people who are worse off. Many Hoosiers use the loss of Indiana’s jobs at Carrier to Mexico as an example of the injustice of trade deals and free enterprise. But do we hear Hoosiers complain when the Indiana Economic Development Corporation announces a company moving jobs from another state to Indiana? Or from one Indiana county to another?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – After the housing bubble collapse of 2007-8, I thought of forming Economists Anonymous, a self-help group of forecasting addicts. I couldn’t get anyone to join me. Forecasts and projections are in demand. Someone will do them and they are best if done by people who are informed, trained, and cautious. Caution is important because statements about the future are taken seriously; lives and fortunes may depend on them. Forecasts and projections are compared to what we believe we know about the present. Annual population estimates by the U.S. Bureau of the Census are as close as we can get to how many people live where. These estimates, however, are not perfect. Thus, measuring projections against the estimates involves using two imperfect sets of numbers. Matt Kinghorn at the IU Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) does population projections. He meets all the criteria for a good forecaster and he doesn’t give up.
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Somebody is sure to ask, “Are you better off now than you were in 2007?” That was probably the one year most folks think of as “pre-Great Recession,” when the Good Times last rolled. Your answer is going to depend on where you live now, what you are doing now, compared to where you were and what you were doing back then. We’ll use 2007 and 2015 annual averages at the county level from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to get some idea about how the Hoosier economy is now compared to then. Let’s start with the unemployment rates. Back in 2007, the highest unemployment rate fell on Fayette County at 7.2%. In 2015, Vermillion had that “honor” at 7.1%. In both periods, Hamilton County could boast the lowest unemployment rate of Indiana’s 92 counties, although the rate did rise there from 2.9 to 3.4%. Hamilton was just one of 40 Hoosier counties with a higher unemployment rate in 2015 than eight years earlier. By contrast, 32 counties saw their unemployment rates fall over that period, while 20 counties had negligible changes from -1 to +1%.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Basketball may be king in Indiana, but the king is losing his castles. They demolished the Wigwam in Anderson last week. Soon the 1928 Fieldhouse in Muncie could meet the wrecker’s ball. Sentimentality may extend the life of this structure, but cannot erase certain facts: Anderson and Muncie are part of a 12-county neglected region. This Distressed Dozen, stretching from Logansport through Peru and Wabash, to Richmond and Connersville, encompass massive tumors of economic and social decay, despite the remedial efforts of local leaders. When the state recently awarded millions of dollars to three regions, this area was totally neglected. Ten of the 21 Indiana counties that lost population in the past 20 years are part of the Distressed Dozen. In total they have seen their population drop by 4% (26,700) while the balance of the state enjoyed a 16% increase (830,000). At the heart of this population decline was the loss of 47,100 jobs in the region.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It seems awfully early, but our youngest grandchild returns to school this week. It’s part of the changes made possible by advancing technology and its adoption by society. In this case, it’s the installation of air conditioning in our schools. My thoughts are not so much about what is taught in our schools, but what students are learning. Are they learning civility? Are they learning that civility is the behavior expected of a citizen? Are they learning civics, the study of government? It’s not the turning of the calendar to August that brings all this to mind. No, it was a caption of a newspaper picture showing the Indiana Lottery paying out the $536 million from the Mega Millions jackpot last week. The caption stated, “The family will take home $271 million after taxes.” The statement is factually correct, but readers are left to believe that the government will take $265 million in taxes. That would be 49% of the jackpot. Oh, hear the outcry from the righteous Rightwing about the greed of government. Equally loud are the protests of the indignant Leftwing with cries of inequity.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Back in the Reagan era (1984), as we emerged from the recession of those years, 73 of Indiana’s personal income was generated by non-farm employment. In this Obama era (2014), as we emerged from what we call the Great Recession, non-farm jobs accounted for 70% of personal income. Many will dismiss three percentage points as trivial, but that’s about $8 billion of 2014 income for Hoosiers. This shift of income is accompanied by an increase in the share of personal income represented by government transfer payments (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments, plus Unemployment Compensation). In the U.S., this increase was about 3% over the past 10 years and 5% in the Hoosier state. As of 2014, nearly 20% of Indiana’s personal income was derived from government transfers. This is a core issue in our nation, particularly in this election year. Government transfer payments are considered by many people as excessive burdens imposed on higher income people by elderly, low income voters. At the same time, these government transfers are seen by those with little wealth as necessary components of a social safety net readily afforded by a wealthy nation.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – If you Googled Indiana’s economy recently, you found our governor, lieutenant governor, and State Sen. Hershman all yahooing our employment situation. That’s good. The numbers do look good for Indiana as they do for the nation. It’s nice to see these Indiana leaders harmonizing with President Obama. It was a particular delight to have Sen. Hershman cite the fact that Indiana led the nation’s growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the last quarter of 2015. That’s a rare distinction for us. We weren’t just ahead of the national average. Indiana was the number one state in the union with an annualized growth rate of 3 percent compared to a rate of 1.7 percent for the nation. What makes this special is twofold: First, this seems like the only time I recall a leading Hoosier politician paying attention to state GDP figures. I suppose when Indiana is number one in anything, it brings out our yahooing instincts. Second, the last time Indiana led all states in GDP growth was the fourth quarter of 2009. Imagine the statewide celebration if we had gone as long as the Cubs or the Cleveland teams without such a stellar achievement.
  • [This column is dedicated to the memory of Raymond Moscowitz, a newspaper man,  who died June 8.]

    INDIANAPOLIS – First and foremost, I apologize for raising the anxieties of many readers last week when I reported that Indiana had gone from 1,008 to 1,009 townships. That was my fault; gross neglect by failing to check my work and my sources when I got an unexpected result. Anyone who works with data knows unexpected results are very likely wrong. Triple check your work before you declare startling news to the world. The U.S. Census of Governments in 2012 reported Indiana had 1,006 townships, a loss of two since citizens restructured governments in two counties. Gone is Eagle Township from Boone County, replaced by Zionsville and Whitestown. Gone is Mount Pleasant Township from Delaware County, replaced by Yorktown and part of Muncie. Those four places have assumed the governmental functions of the two former townships. Indiana now has 1,010 county subdivisions.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – According to the U. S. Census Bureau, 34 (37 percent) of Indiana’s 92 counties gained population between 2010 and 2015. Thus, 58 (63 percent) of our counties lost, or had no change in, population. Since this was competently discussed in the press by Matt Kinghorn of the IU Indiana Business Research Center, I look to the township data for a column that goes deeper into the data. Wrong turn. The first thing I do is count up all the townships that added population (388) and those that lost population (609), plus those unchanged from 2010 (12). It’s then I should have quit. That sum is 1,009 and, as every Hoosier fourth grader knows in this state of exemplary education, there are 1,008 townships in Indiana. I double check my count. Again it’s 1,009.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – They’re telling tales now, like they never usta. My now-departed friend, George Bond, sent me many emails with verses to that old refrain, “They’re laying eggs now, like they never usta, ever since the roosta came into our yard.” It comes into my head, and doesn’t leave, every election year. I’m told a hen will lay eggs whether or not there is a rooster, but some say she’ll be more productive with the noisy fellow about. Politicians tell tales whether or not there is an election, but they are more proficient at it during election periods. Gov. Pence and former Speaker Gregg are running about the Hoosier barnyard crowing about our economy. The governor proudly points to many thousands of new jobs for Hoosiers during his term in office. Speaker Gregg laments Hoosier earnings are lagging. Both have facts on their side, perhaps somewhat embellished, but facts none the less. Let’s look at those facts. The governor was inaugurated in January 2013, so let’s say his influence started in April of that year. From April 2013 to April 2016, private sector jobs in Indiana increased by 146,600.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – After a column on income distribution two weeks ago, I received numerous disapproving e-mails. Be assured I am not a bloodless, unfeeling conservative who would rip the ragged covering from a homeless, shivering child on a winter’s night. Nor am I a drug-crazed liberal preparing to equalize income, independent of effort and ability, in the name of an ancient goddess of justice. Let’s move on. Annual income alone does not signify poverty or affluence. Public policy should not rest on how much an individual or a household makes in a single year. Down the street from each of us lives an elderly lady who has no income beyond her small Social Security check. However, she may not be poor. She may not suffer for anything other than companionship. She may have substantial savings, no mortgage, no household maintenance or utility expenses. She may be blessed with a son and a daughter-in-law, further down the street, who pay all those bills.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – What do Hoosiers have against San Francisco (Calif.), College Park (Md.), or Romeoville (Ill.)? Those are just three cities from which companies are relocating to Indiana. What do Hoosiers have against  Arizona, Texas, California, Mexico, China, England and other places where Indiana companies have moved production, offices, and even headquarters? Our government officials are proud they can “claw back” subsidies granted to Carrier, which is moving production to Mexico over a period of years. In a paroxysm of patriotism, the Indiana House voted 60-34 to have companies repay property tax abatements they receive, if the firm moves out of the country. Our pence-wise and pound-foolish governor wants to bring more jobs to Indiana. Good, but he is sworn only to protect the constitution of Indiana, not to cause damage to people living outside our borders.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Let me not be a spoilsport. But why are we now talking about income disparities when the problem, if it is a problem, has been with us and growing for more than 40 years? I wish I knew the answer. Maybe the Great Recession actually was the Great Reawakening. Maybe America woke from the Great Delusion that all was just fine if more people moved into single family homes, had retirement plans, and unlimited sports programming on TV. The economic downturn of 2007-09 demonstrated that even those who felt quite secure were vulnerable to an economy built on hope turned to hype. The working class, who were now called “middle class,” found themselves immersed in a crisis formulated by the wise guys of the financial industry. Yet, those underwater on their mortgages and credit cards knew they too were culpable for applauding and encouraging obsessive optimism. Enough conjecture. Let’s look at the facts as reported by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. In 1974, the lowest fifth of all American households received just 4.3 percent of money income. The top fifth of all households got 43.5 percent of that income.  By this time, the War on Poverty was nearly a decade old. Come forward to 2014. Now the lowest fifth received 3.1 percent and the top fifth enjoyed 51.2 percent of money income.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana did better in 2015 than the United States as a whole in its growth of per capita personal income (PCPI). Hold the fanfare and confetti. We did only slightly better than the nation. As you recall, personal income includes wages, salaries, dividends, interest and rent, plus payments from governments for health benefits, social security, unemployment and workers’ compensation among other factors. Indiana’s PCPI in 2015 grew by 3.6 percent and the nation advanced by 3.5 percent. Look closer and the game was even tighter: Indiana up 3.59 percent, the nation up 3.52. Nonetheless, while we’re mired in 38th place among the 50 states in PCPI (the same position we had 10 years earlier), our annual growth rate in 2015 ranked 19th in the country compared to a dismal 35th for the prior decade. That’s the story the Statehouse should be telling:  A more smiley face with a cheery tune for the early evening news.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Let’s clarify some issues that may arise in this contentious political year. These data covering 2005 to 2015 may differ somewhat from those offered by other writers, speakers, and researchers. Why? These data are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’  “Quarterly Census of Wages and Employment” via the Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s Hoosiers by the Numbers website, where only the first three quarters of 2015 are available. Other researchers may use other data series based on different sources. In addition, here we are not coloring the picture to tell a particular story or support a partisan fantasy. We’re not saying what’s good or what’s bad. You can make that up on your own, as if you were running for political office. Suggestion: Read slowly; think how a political ad on TV would use these data. 1. Indiana gained 52,300 jobs from 2005 to 2015, with a 61,400 increase in the private sector, but a loss of 9,000 government jobs. While private jobs in Indiana grew by 2.5%, nationally the growth was 6.4%.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Last Thursday, the people of Goshen gathered to celebrate the nearly 18 years Allan Kauffman spent as mayor. It was a joyous occasion recognizing a humble man of honor. There may not be a more demanding job than mayor of an Indiana city. Starved of revenue and authority by an anti-urban state legislature, yet bearing all the responsibilities of maintaining a civil city, a Hoosier mayor is hard-pressed to sustain on-going approval by the electorate. Allan Kauffman achieved that approval as a city council member for 13 years before his appointment as mayor in 1997. He then was elected and reelected mayor four times. Respected statewide, Kauffman focused, as mayors must, on the daily demands of streets, sanitation, and safety. But ever-present was his pragmatic vision of a better community in a more inclusive society.  Long after the warm memories and funny stories of the evening fade, Goshen residents will have the Allan Kauffman “Good for Goshen” Award to reflect his civic achievements and Kauffman Park to enjoy his enduring legacy. On the same day, the Indiana General Assembly was irresponsibly bringing its latest session to a close, disgracing and disappointing the people of Indiana. To understand the legislature, let’s take a moment to consider that, according to my research, no Hoosier mayor has ever been elected governor of the state.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – When last we visited Boss Bosco of the Indiana General Assembly he was sleeping off his eggnog. Today he is fresh and frisky. “Over here, son,” he calls in his legislative baritone. “Boss,” I ask anxiously, “did you bring your spreadsheet showing your plan to return sales tax to Indiana counties?” “Right here,” has says, unfolding a set of papers. “It’s all here. In 2014, the Indiana Department of Revenue (DOR) collected $6.3 billion in sales taxes or $953 for each of the 6.6 million Hoosiers.” “I understand you would allow local governments to raise the sales tax within their jurisdictions,” I say. “No,” he replies. “Sober, I see it would only increase competition between communities while confusing consumers and businesses. Let’s just increase the state sales tax by a penny and give all that new revenue back to the counties.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – There is a common, comforting acceptance that “what is, is.” However, any disturbance (actual or anticipated) of “what is” may become unreasonable fear. See those daily stock market reports. Emotionally and economically, we (Hoosiers, Americans, all humans?) are unprepared for change, although we will blithely insist, “The only constant is change.” Thus, when oil prices fall, selected individuals, companies, communities and countries which depend on those prices suffer severely. Likewise, a rise in those same prices brings hardship to a different set of entities. What should we do when companies leave town, abandoning workers, relationships, and property? That is hardly different from natural disasters and their effects on those left behind, disadvantaged by forces beyond their control. How do we help flood victims, corn farmers, or oil field workers? Should we take the health care route?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I don’t use the word evil very often. Bad, ill-advised, unfortunate, but rarely evil. Yet here’s a case worthy of that strong adjective. A pavilion at the Indiana Dunes State Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan in Porter County, is in considerable disrepair. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) seeks to restore the facility. A private firm (Pavilion Partners, LLC) proposes placing a fine dining restaurant on the second floor of the pavilion, plus adding a conference and banquet facility, to make this state asset more useable throughout the year. To do this they require a three-way (beer, wine and liquor) alcoholic beverage license from the state. No booze equals no concerts, wedding parties, or corporate events.  Without the alcohol permit, the park would have only a modernized facility for sun and surf bathers, hikers, and other visitors to a glorious locale. The old-time, pristine virtues of a state park would again (excuse the expression) trump aggressive commercialism. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The circus is entertaining once more at the Statehouse. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, the Indiana General Assembly is in session. Once again, you can see the stars of the show attempt to make daring public policy, swallow the fire of tax increases, and walk the tightrope of discrimination. Off to the side are the brave few battling the beasts of ignorance, indifference, and stupidity. Let’s resist the temptation to shine a light where so much darkness dwells. Instead, we retreat to the Garden of Data where, despite some weeds, the air is clean and invigorating. Imagine if our legislature stopped for a moment to sniff this delicate statistic from the American Community Survey (ACS) of 2014: About a third of all Hoosiers work outside their county of residence.
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  • Intelligence Chairs say Putin seeks to disrupt, influence U.S. election
    “At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes. We believe that orders for the Russian intelligence agencies to conduct such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government.” - In a jointly issued statement from Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam B. Schiff who are the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees, on Russian President Vladimir Putin's likely effort to disrupt and influence the U.S. presidential election. Both said they reached their conclusion “based on briefings we have received” from U.S. intelligence agencies. The Republican presidential ticket of Donald Trump and Mike Pence have both cited Putin for his strong leadership and Trump has suggested the U.S. election will be “rigged.”
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Should Donald Trump release recent tax returns, like every major party nominee has done over the past 40 years?


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