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Thursday, December 5, 2019 2:55 PM

How’s business? “Wonderful,” is the answer you’ll probably get from those who only know the stock market continues to rise. 

How is business in Indiana or in your sector of the economy? That answer is often hard to find. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS – “The [Indianapolis] Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) envisions Indianapolis as a growing, vibrant, and beautiful city where people are [sic] businesses thrive in an inclusive, world-class community.” That’s about all one can learn about DMD from its obtuse website. I doubt Bob Kennedy would have written such empty words. He certainly would laugh at the Freudian slip where DMD says “people are businesses.” Bob is a former director of DMD, an active, questioning voice on the Development Commission, and, during his long career, the architect for the city/county public library. His style is direct and material. Fluff and bluff have no place in his approach to urban development.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” bellows State Senator Puffy Stuffy. “Wages, Wages, Wages,” shouts State Representative Roberta Righteous. “It’s like the Sinatra song, ‘Love and Marriage,’ you can’t have one without the other,” retorts the Senator. “What world do you live in?” asks the Rep. “Indiana has 2.1% of the jobs in the U.S. and 1.7% of the wages. Only two other states have a larger negative difference in those figures. Simply put, Puffy, we’re 48th in the nation.” “Now, Bobbie, consider who we represent,” the Senator pleads. “We in the General Assembly protect the Hoosier way of life. I’ve seen the list with California and New York at the top. They make movies and money. We make steel and soybeans.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – An economist at IU-B was often heard to say, “He who has a number is ahead of he who does not.” George Wilson then would apply pencil to any available piece of paper and rapidly produce a number. Most often they were remarkably consistent with the best estimates available. But, when George performed this magic, he did not always share that number. He knew the power of numbers. He understood how a weak number could be used to shape a weak policy. Today, let’s take two numbers and see what mischief can evolve. The first number is the change in the number of jobs in Indiana between 2007 and 2019 (both years before major downturns). The second number is the change in the number of residents of the state employed between the same years. The first number is 251,568 jobs compared to 226,215 employed residents. The difference is 25,353. What can we make of that?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We, the people of the United States, are indebted to the millions of students who took on considerable monetary debt to support their dreams and our colleges and universities. Our nation needs dreamers and risk takers. A young person emerging from the morass of secondary education, ill-equipped for studies requiring reading, writing, and concentration, is faced with an array of choices. a. Get a job and hope it is the bottom step of an escalator going up and not one at the bottom of a decayed ladder. b. Go for training in an occupation which you will find interesting, remunerative, and will make your parents proud. c. Go to college and learn how to think with tools from many disciplines. Then try to live a life that is interesting, elevating, and makes you proud. These are difficult decisions for young people who generally get little useful guidance from their peers, parents, and counselors. These are youngsters ignorant of finance, to say nothing about collateralized tranches.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Yes, I’m fed up with politicians buying the votes of Hoosier citizens. I am equally fed up with Hoosier citizens who do not provide cash for politicians to sustain democracy. You know Gov. Holcomb and the Indiana General Assembly are sending Hoosier income taxpayers money from “The Surplus.” These checks are arriving in time for you to remember your benefactors on election day this year. You may not know Mayor Joe Hogsett (Indianapolis) has proposed sending property taxpayers in Marion County approximately $29 million “to fight inflation.” Those checks should be arriving in time for the municipal elections of 2023. The amounts of those checks will be significant to poor taxpayers. But most poor people are neither income nor property taxpayers. Most taxpayers getting the checks are not poor or in financial distress. They are only hungry for more pizza and beer, more fillet and wine. What do Hoosiers really want? Better services from their respective governments.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Last week I attended a wine-tasting in Nappanee. There I discovered Becky Kelley selling her book, “Wineing Your Way Across Indiana: Recipes, History and Scenery.” I bought a copy because it is unlike any other guide useful to an Indiana resident or tourist interested in undiscovered wines and wineries. The descriptions and photos are extraordinary in both their simplicity and elegance. It’s a substantial book with its high-quality paper and hard cover, a sign of the seriousness of both author and publisher, Acclaim Press of Morley, a tiny town in the boot heel of Missouri. There is a warmth to this book that is most inviting. Wine lovers will be intrigued by the individualized text and pictures of the wines, wineries, and food pairings. Wine connoisseurs will miss the point ratings and the esoteric taste values. Wine snobs will dismiss the book because it is about Indiana wines.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Too often we must admit to being ashamed to be Hoosiers. Most of those times are related to the behavior of our legislature and our governor. This is one of those times. The behavior of our political “leaders” with regard to the abortion issue is despicable. Is there another word for it? A woman (or a man) has the right to control the use of her/his (not their!) body. To deny that right, even in the case of suicide, is contrary to the dignity of each individual. If you believe God made us in His image, then we are each a distinct person capable of and responsible for our behavior. We do have responsibilities with regard to others, but we also must be granted freedom from the dictates of others when our actions do not abridge those of others. Cells lodged in the body of a woman, with or without her consent, are hers to keep or discard as she chooses until they become viable human beings. And what right does the man have who helped form those cells? None, if he failed to take precautions to prevent impregnation. And only a very limited claim, if the pregnancy was mutually desired, but later rejected by the woman.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Transportation reports Indiana “has more at-grade public rail-highway crossings than all but four other states.”  Safety and efficiency at these crossings and in the areas around them are extremely important. Lives are of primary importance. However, local emergencies, the time of travelers, the air quality impact of idling motors, and the damage to vehicles, are also of consequence. An inventory of Indiana at-grade rail crossings lists 16,464. Some are active and some inactive. But all are important if we drive across them and they are not properly maintained. Lake County may be the winner with 968 such crossings, 279 in Gary. Allen Co. has 405 with 201 in Fort Wayne; Vigo Co. 345 with 262 in Terre Haute; Bartholomew Co. 141 with 94 in Columbus.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The news is going to pour down on us on both Thursday, July 28, and on Wednesday, August 10. You’ll need some protection from the amount of speculation coming forth on those days. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) will release its first estimate of Gross Domestic Product for the second quarter of this year on the 28th. There will be revised estimates for the next two months, with each one treated as something truly new. Not only will the media carry the story, but they will wallow in speculation about recession if the figure is worse than the 1% decline recorded in the first quarter. “Two negative quarters doth a recession make,” they will intone. If the number is a weak positive, the story will be about our narrow escape from recession or the on-going robust nature of the American economy.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Before we delve into Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at the county level, please understand federal statistical agencies prevent us from knowing about $13.6 billion or 3.6% of Indiana’s GDP. This “disclosure policy” is intended to protect the privacy of business firms. However, it makes it impossible to give a reasonably complete picture of the economy in most counties. In Fayette County (IN), 60% of GDP was  undisclosed in 2019. Marion and St. Joseph each had 12.8% of their county GDP undisclosed. Given that caveat, we proceed to consider most of the 21 sectors in our study of 2019 GDP. Agriculture was not the leading sector in any Hoosier county. Only in Jay Co. did Ag exceed 10% of GDP. But this sector was subject to the disclosure rule in 20 counties, places as dissimilar as Vanderburgh and Warren counties.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Recent columns have examined Indiana’s GDP in isolation and in mid-level detail (21 subsectors). Now let’s widen and narrow the view. How was Indiana doing before COVID, which threw everything out-of-whack for a while? Between 2009 and 2019, Indiana’s Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew from $280 billion to $338 billion, after adjustment for inflation. That’s a $59 billion jump, a 21% increase (allowing for rounding off the numbers). Over the same decade, the nation advanced by 25%. The difference seems small. But when we’re dealing with billions of dollars in constant buying power, that’s $10.8 billion foregone in the value of our output, and roughly $5.5 billion in personal income.
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  This week, we move deeper in Indiana’s economy, down the GDP rabbit hole into the sectors of that economy. Recall, we use the 2019 GDP, the sum of all the goods and services produced in Indiana, because 2020 and 2021 were impacted by the COVID pandemic. We think 2019 is more reliable picture of our Hoosier economy. How many economic sectors are in Indiana? You could say two, the private and the public sectors, if you’re thinking of ownership. Or two, goods and services, if you’re thinking about material substances vs. what people do more directly for you. We’re dividing the economy into 21 sectors and accepting the ambiguity of those sector names.
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Many elected officials and official wannabes may not know basic facts about the Hoosier state. This is a perfect time to step away from toxic news and partisan fermentation to scan reality. How many people live in Indiana? The latest number from the Census Bureau is 6,805,985. That’s an estimate for July 1, 2021. It’s an estimate, not a count of persons. It’s best to say 6.8 million. Where do we stand compared to other states? Indiana is the 17th most populous state. In 2009, we were 15th, but Arizona and Tennessee have been growing faster than we have and jumped ahead. Nationally, the population grew at a 0.74% annual rate from 2009 to 2019 but slowed to a 0.25% annual rate between ’19 and ’21 because COVID took so many lives. Indiana had a similar experience. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  Gov. Holcomb sent shivers up my spine last week with his bizarre billion-dollar bomb blast. Until that moment, I felt sorry for Eric Holcomb, a fellow trapped by a bunch of Ultra-Wrong loonies in the Indiana General Assembly. Here, perhaps, was a decent human being, degraded by his association with Mike Pence, and subsequently morally immobilized by Righteous Republican Rabble. How could a rational Republican suggest taking a billion dollars and wantonly refunding tax money to Hoosiers when those citizens are in such distress? What is this distress? Yes, it is inflation for the very poorest who already struggle from day to day. However, for all Hoosiers, except perhaps the very most wealthy,  Indiana’s real distress is its persistent decline relative to the nation. Giving $250 to be spent willy-nilly does little to ease the pain of inflation.
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  A good friend told me recently he bought four guns as insurance against a violent society. I didn’t bother to note that he lives in a particularly low crime city.  There was one murder in his town between 2006 and 2019 (the latest information on There were 26 reported rapes and 17 robberies in those 13 years. The crime index for his city in 2019 was 76.2 or 28% of the 270.6 U.S. average. So why is this intelligent, rational Conservative buying guns for “insurance?” He knows there are unstable elements in our society, whipped up by politicians who feed a minority of gun-bearing crackpots and a media selling terror for profit. He knows a disgruntled person of any age can acquire an automatic rifle and kill a dozen or more innocent people  anywhere in the U.S. in a matter of seconds.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We are deluged with “news” that the American labor market is a shambles. Business owners say, “We can’t get people to work, even with higher wages and improved benefit packages.” Well maybe, just maybe, workers have had it with low wages and inadequate respect, and the worm has turned. Maybe, COVID didn’t make people lust for the days of old when workers were commodities instead of individuals. Or, perhaps, the whole labor shortage is that mountain made from a convenient mole hill. “People today just aren’t willing to work!” Strange, but the size of the national labor force (those employed or seeking employment) was down in 2021 by just 1.4% from its pre-COVID 2019 peak. Of course, it’s more impressive if we say the labor force is down by 2.3 million persons and then fail to mention the base we’re talking about is in excess of 163 million persons.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Want to sign up to be an inflation fighter? Don’t think it’s just something for the Fed, Congress, and Big Business to do? It’s like being a forest fire fighter. Inflation is a blaze that’s hard to contain once it gets going. It can be started by careless people on the ground as well as by strikes of lightning from above. Our current inflation is a result of two efforts by the Fed, the Administration, and the Congress (including both parties) to avoid economic disasters in 2008 and 2020. In 2008, Wall Street imploded, and the entire credit system of the U.S. was endangered. The credit system enables us to buy a car, a house, and our daily groceries with our credit/debit cards. It enables the car dealer to have a selection of cars on the lot and the grocer to have a variety of goods on the shelves.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We continue to hear it whispered where once it was shouted, “Manufacturing isn’t dead yet, but it is certainly dying.” If growing is a signal of dying, then there is no hope for anything. From 2009 to 2019, the best years available for comparisons given the COVID crisis, the U.S. economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 51% and manufacturing by 39%. Those are current dollar figures, not adjusted for inflation, but inflation was not a significant factor in those years. For Indiana, those growth figures were 46% for the state’s economy and 44% for manufacturing. In both years, manufacturing accounted for 29% of Indiana’s economy, a percentage no other state exceeded. Nationally, in those 10 years, manufacturing added one million jobs and 100,000 of those were in the Hoosier state. Only Michigan added more manufacturing jobs (168,000) than did Indiana. Together, these two neighbors accounted for one-quarter of the entire increase in American manufacturing jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The March Consumer Price Index (CPI) convinced many an economic cosmic cataclysm is about to occur. Yes, an 8.5% increase over the same period last year is startling. That’s why inflation led off the evening news and dominated newspaper headlines. Yet, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced its March CPI figure, it also reported the March 2022 CPI figure exceeded the February 2022 number by 1.3%. This 1.3%, this short-term number, was the one often headlined in the past. If prices sustained that monthly growth rate, they would be 16.8% higher by the end of 12 months. Clearly, a 16.8% prospective inflation rate is scarier than an 8.5 retrospective rate. Both rates are technically correct, but many CPI components are highly variable, and the purpose of the Index is to tell us where we have been, not to forecast the future.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The preamble to the U.S. Constitution declares the intent of the document: “to form a more perfect Union.” They weren’t talking about labor organizations. Fragmentation was a major issue faced by the founding fathers. Political fragmentation of the 13 contentious states, not the human fragments they avoided of women, slaves, native Americans. Despite progress, those issues remain evident today throughout Indiana. Consider just the political fragmentation. You would think Hamilton County, which is probably 60 years behind the times, would not be thinking like Lake County which is 100 years behind the times. At this point, Myrtle my Muse, reading over my shoulder, whispers, “You’ve just lost whatever friends you have left in two important Indiana counties.”
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  • Morales denies sexual harassment allegations; Wells comments
    "As a husband and father, I understand sexual harassment is deplorable and can leave devastating scars. The claims being made against me are false and I unequivocally deny all of them. The women, who will not reveal their identity, cannot corroborate their stories. They have neither documentation nor sources to substantiate their defaming comments. The falsities stem from 15 years ago and were not brought forward until now. The timing is clearly politically motivated, especially considering one of the women mentions that she is now volunteering for my opponent's campaign. The claims were printed in a publication that uses a disclaimer stating, 'This is a compiliation of pure gossip, rumor and blatant innuendo'. I am appalled to be included in this publication (and) I was not provided an opportunity to respond to these falsehoods before they were printed." Republican Secretary of State nominee Diego Morales, responding to allegations published by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz at IndyPolitics. Democrat nominee Destiny Wells said in a statement: "Diego Morales' victims need to be heard and believed. It takes tremendous courage in coming forward, and the last thing I want is for their personal sacrifice to be for naught. While this race has been focused on safeguarding our right to vote, we too must safeguard a woman's right to exist in the workplace free of sexual harassment and assault. For weeks we have seen mounting evidence that Diego will say and do anything to get what he wants — as Hoosiers, I know this is not in line with our values — we have had enough."
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