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Friday, April 19, 2019
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  • INDIANAPOLIS – Helping our communities grow is one objective of governors, mayors and their economic co-conspirators. We might thrive better if they focused on helping our communities develop. Development, as one of my co-conspirators reminds me, is a precursor, a foundation for growth. If diversity of ownership is considered development, then foreign direct investment (FDI) has many virtues. When a foreign-owned company invests in a local city or town, it does more than build or repurpose an existing structure. It hires local labor to do that work and may exhibit different expectations about construction methods and timing. This can be an improvement or a degrading, but it is a difference.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Landmarks does a commendable job of historic preservation. They recognize the structures worth restoring because of certain events or persons of the past or for their architectural significance. Saving neighborhoods, however, by zoning them with strict standards designed to keep them looking as they did in some bygone day is contrary to good sense. Yes, others have different values and I’m supposed to respect them. It doesn’t make it easier for me or them when we insist the government be used to enforce our values. Not every Indiana courthouse is a gem worthy of eternal existence. Just because we grew up with it doesn’t mean succeeding generations should be burdened with our nostalgia. Public buildings constructed before 1920 were, in most cases, more charming than those erected in the past 100 years. But charm alone cannot accommodate the present or the future.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – You probably are familiar with Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), groups of counties around cities of 50,000 or more persons. Sometimes an MSA is only one county, but often an MSA includes nearby counties because there is considerable commuting between the core county and the outlying counties. Bartholomew is the only county in the Columbus MSA. However, the Evansville MSA includes four counties, one of which is in Kentucky. In all, 43 of Indiana’s 92 counties are part of 14 metro areas, some extending into each of our four neighboring states. But do you know Indiana also has 26 Micropolitan Statistical Areas involving 27 counties? The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says “Micropolitan Statistical Areas have at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000, but less than 50,000 population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Americans seem indifferent to the level of personal debt and obsessed with public debt. My mother had an aphorism: “You had your fun, now you have to pay for it.” Debt, according to this view, is incurred for a lack of patience, a preference for current gratification over future comfort and security (health and other emergencies aside). As consumers, we put those concert tickets and those clothes on the credit card, which we do not pay off promptly. But in the public sector, we don’t want to build our streets and roads or operate our schools to a higher standard because we don’t want to pay higher taxes or user fees over time. In our homes we say, “It’s our money to do with as we please.” About government we say, “It’s the politicians and bureaucrats fault; they waste so much of our money on needless projects.” Neither statement holds up under examination.
  • MERIDIAN HILLS  –  Last week I spoke to their Honors at a meeting of the Northern Indiana Mayors in Logansport. The session began at the Dentzel Carousel alongside the Eel River. It was a comfortable site for officials who are forced by an anti-urban legislature to spend so much time going around in circles. If Mayor Kitchell wants to increase tourism, he should have the name of the river changed. Who wants to canoe the Eel when it could be the Elk?  The state has two Eel rivers, but no Elk (there is an Elkhart River in Elkhart Co.). This is a chance to end confusion about the Eel and improve economic opportunity for Cass and five other counties. Beforehand, I examined what’s happened to the population of Indiana’s 547 incorporated cities and towns between 1970 and 2017. Of those 547 places, 454 (83%) were home to less than 5,000 each. How big does a town have to be or what economic activity must it have to constitute a community? Does a population of 22 (River Forest, outside of Anderson in Madison County) qualify?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s another bundle of happy news about Indiana’s workers. This time it covers a 10-year span, including both the recession and the recovery. We’ll compare Indiana’s labor force in 2007 with 2017. Yes, it would be more interesting to use 2018 data, but they are being checked and prepared for distribution. Happy item #1: Of Indiana’s 92 counties, 88 have seen their number of unemployed persons decrease by a combined total of 30,700. Happy item #2: Only four counties (Hamilton, Porter, Hendricks, and Boone) saw the number unemployed increase. So small were these few increases that they totaled only 1,100 persons. It was also these four counties that led the state in increased employment and increased labor force. Were these small increases in the number unemployed just a timing factor as many people flocked to these counties where job growth was so plentiful?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I spend too much time with old folks like me, folks who interpret the world through fantasies born of their experiences. They and I have hardening of the intellect as a result of inadequate interactions with the diverse people of our communities. Take the self-righteous conservatives and liberals with whom I associate and identify. They (we) think they (we) understand today’s world because they (we) lived in yesterday’s world. Conservatives view the world through cataracts that cloud the subtleties of life. Liberals wear lenses that put halos around strangers. But both “know” the truth and have inflexible remedies to cure all ailments.  
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Nelson Pneumatic, local chair of Nerds for Numbers, called me late last week. “I’ve got great news,” he said. “Indiana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew faster in the second quarter of 2018 than GDP did nationwide.” “Wow,” I replied. “Did you tell the Governor’s office? They’ll want to issue a proclamation.” “I’ll do that later,” he said. “I wanted you to know first so you can start baking some humble pie. It shows the General Assembly is the ever-wise entity that, by lowering business taxes, is working for working Hoosiers.” “By how much did we beat out the other 49 states?” I asked. “Oh,” Nelson sighed. “You won’t see the glory of Indiana as reflected in the data.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Let’s take a short stroll through the orchards of data prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. While we are there, please consider how your county can increase the earnings (wages and salaries) of your residents. No, I’m not going to preach for higher minimum wages, more skillful workers, or generous employers. Leave all of that outside the orchard gate. Let’s just think about the income generated in our counties, but paid to workers who live elsewhere. That’s right. The person working next to you in a factory, warehouse, office or store may be an “alien” from Henry County (New Castle). He takes his earnings back home to Hancock County (Greenfield) where he buys groceries and pays property taxes, to say nothing of other spending. Do you have any sense of the magnitude of those funds flowing out as each commuter leaves for his or her home in another Indiana county? Or maybe even in an Ohio county?
  • INDIANAPOLIS  –  Some politicians use a magic mirror to ask: “Which is the fairest tax of all?” Likewise, some economists and other social agitators look into the same mirror to ask: “Which tax, currently in use, is the most regressive tax of all?” Both groups are answered: “The sales tax!” It’s wonderful to have such a mirror. Some fair tax people are devoted to the sales tax. After all, with exemptions for the barest necessities, like food and medicine, a sales tax discourages consumption, which is a sin. They contend responsible people, regardless of income level, save. You must put away money for that inevitable day when ill fortune brings unemployment, accident, illness, or college education. Those savings are to be invested in corporate America via mutual funds or other stock market instruments.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Like other Indiana cities, Columbus seeks to strengthen its downtown area. The plan was detailed by The Republic (Dec. 2, 2018). What appears to some as a progressive move forward is perceived by this aged observer as a reversion to previous concepts.  This is not a disparagement of the Envision Columbus plan. No. It’s a recognition of changing preferences and lifestyles, as well as the pendulum swings in urban land prices. Let’s look at some details. As the burdens of suburban living became manifest, downtown residences became popular again. The Columbus plan asserts: “young people and families expressed an interest and desire to live in the downtown area.” This might be a real trend or a transitory Millennials’ mirage.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – He was very pale and dressed in shades of gray. His business card read A.G. Bell. No address or contact information. Only the name. His Scottish accent was filtered through a generous white beard. “Youngster,” he said. “I be disturbed by excessive ringing in me ears.” “Tinnitus,” I was quick to diagnose. “I have it. It’s a continuous hissing sound that’s always in the background. Comes with age.” “I not be thinking that,” Mr. Bell said. “It’s truly ringing of me telephone. Not continuous, but frequent and excessive.” “Your popularity?” I offered. “So many folks wanting to talk with you. It’s a good thing you don’t put your phone number on your business card. Nonetheless our numbers do get out. And they do get used by all sorts of people.” “Six times in a single hour!” he roared. “Not one of them a call from someone I knew or even one who knew me. All of them trying to get into me purse for things or purposes.” “Ah, yes,” I said knowing the correct diagnosis now. “Unsolicited solicitations. Folks trying to sign you up for more comprehensive health insurance, advanced home safety systems, better credit cards, and exceptional good causes.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Drive along some of Indiana’s interstates and a single fact becomes evident: There are large numbers of persons on the road with you who are sexually deprived or unsatisfied. How else can you explain all those ads for “adult” literature and apparatus? Freudians would likewise see the many billboards for fireworks as appealing to suppressed libidos. Billboards are unlike other advertisements. You cannot avoid them. They enter your line of sight and are a distraction. But they also provide information, often desired and welcome information. That’s the tradeoff – information vs. intrusion. Some will escalate the discussion by arguing freedom of speech and property rights of land owners are at stake when regulation of billboards is under consideration. Newspapers, television, magazines, cellphones, your computer screen all are carriers of advertising. However, there is a difference: You and I invite those media into our lives. We can choose to ignore advertisements or to study them in detail. With billboards, we do not choose to be informed about Kitty’s Krunchy Karamels, Fred’s Fearsome Fireworks, or George’s Gents’ Grotto. Yet, it’s good to know a Bilge Burger is just ahead.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Last week we promised the data to back up the disquieting claim that “Indiana is not, and has not been, outperforming the nation in job or wage growth.” According to the Census of Employment and Wages, Indiana added 323,000 private sector jobs between 2010 and 2017, years of recovery from the Great Recession and a 14.0% increase compared to a 15.2% growth nationally. “That’s nothing,” you might say. “Only about 28,000 jobs spread over 92 counties and seven years.” True, but consider this: The seven states with 40% of the jobs in 2010 enjoyed 52% of the job growth. California alone increased its job count by 2.5 million, more than the entire number of Hoosier jobs in 2010 (2.3 million). Within Indiana, 78 counties gained employment, led by Marion County with an increase of 50,400, ranking first in numeric growth, but only 36th in percent increase. Vigo County had the distinction of losing the most jobs (829) while Martin County lost 15.1% of its jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Next week’s column will offer data demonstrating the failure of Indiana and a substantial portion of its counties to exhibit even average economic growth in jobs and wages. You, therefore, have seven days to sharpen your arguments supporting complacency, even satisfaction, with our economic progress. Flatly stated, Indiana is not, and has not been, outperforming the nation in job or wage growth. Yes, for short periods of time, largely in the early part of the recovery from the Great Recession (2010 to 2012), Indiana did better than the nation as a whole. But if we take the entire recovery period (2010 to 2017), the story is one of continued mediocrity at best. Why are we misinformed and self-satisfied? Is it the adverse economics of journalism combined with the self-interest of the booster community? The Times of Northwest Indiana did run a story on business closings in the past year, but how many other news outlets did so?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Charlene Curio is a journalism student on her first off-campus interview. “Why do you write this weekly newspaper column?” she asks. “To introduce Hoosiers to their state,” I respond. “It was an idea of newspaper editors at a dinner in 1990 that became reality the next year. As I traveled the state I realized folks everywhere knew little about Indiana’s economy and population. Newspapers then, as today, focused on local sports, crime, and politics. They didn’t provide much information about the state and how what happens in one region compares to other areas.” “What should Hoosiers know about Indiana they don’t already know?” Charlene asks. “Where were you born?” I ask her. “In Indiana,” she replies with neither pride nor embarrassment. “And that’s the answer 68% of the people living in Indiana would give to that same question,” I tell her. “There are only 10 states with a higher percent of persons living in their state of birth. The top five are Louisiana (78%) followed by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Mississippi. Altogether, 59% of Americans live in their state of birth.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Some Hoosiers will find delight in this week’s column because it shows the government sector in Indiana. Another segment of our population will see more evidence of government services going down the drain. Dataphobes in both groups will read no further shrinking. Between 2007 and 2017, our increase in private non-farm (PNF) jobs rose by 5.6%, half the rate of growth in the U.S. (10.8%). While nationally state and local government jobs (S&LG) rose by 1.1%, Indiana had a 1.8% decline. Those percentages translate in jobs important to families and citizens of every town. Nationally, the PNF sector added 16.4 million jobs, while Indiana added 181,000. However, while the U.S. added 210,000 jobs in S&LG, Indiana lost 7,300 jobs. Yes, there was a great recession in those years, but we did not see “our share” of the private sector recovery despite being “a state that works.” Our incentives, foreign junkets, Eastern Standard Time, lower than thou business taxes, even our treasured backwardness were not enough to lure more private sector jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – You probably noticed the 2018 elections are over, except in states where recounts are proceeding or in bars, diners, and family rooms where pride and disbelief are in conflict. Now what? If we want to restore integrity and responsibility to government, redistricting is imperative. If we understand the need for fair taxation and meaningful regulation, redistricting is the first big step. If we are to pass the environment to future generations as our greatest asset, redistricting is urgent. Across this land legislatures are less responsive to the electorate than to the moneyed men and women. Public service has become private enrichment in too many cases because legislators can, and do, choose their voters. Congressional district boundaries are redrawn following a census of the population every 10 years. Cities, towns, counties, school corporations and other governmental units follow suit in most instances. Political power is supposed to follow the people as they move and add to their families.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – The joy of the Internet is serendipity, the act of finding something of interest you were not looking for. It is the same joy we find in the public library or a book store wandering the stacks. Recently, I found a list of the “Prettiest Towns in Every State”, presumably published by Architectural Digest. Since it was on the Internet, I could not be sure it was published by AD, a magazine that describes itself as “the international design authority.” My suspicions were raised when I read that the prettiest town in Indiana was … wait for it… Porter in Porter County of Northwest Indiana. Porter is OK and popular with those who like the ribs and ambiance at Wagner’s. But prettiest town in Indiana? Not by a long shot. Yet, this got me thinking about the long battle for clean air and water in Northwest Indiana, which led me to dwell on the battle over climate change.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The 2018 elections are upon us. Just turn on your TV if you don’t believe me. But why should you do that? Facts, context and experience are old fashioned ideas in today’s world. They have been replaced by rant, rote, and outright lies. Normally, this column is over-stuffed with data. Not this time. Instead we’ll stay in the stratosphere where there isn’t enough oxygen to support facts. Tonight (which may be several days before you read this), I’ll deliver a talk on fear in our nation. Since I have no qualifications as a psychologist, I am perfectly positioned to deliver this lecture. Fear is often based on ignorance and the willful disregard of facts, context and experience. Thus, Shakespeare kills off Polonius, the character in Hamlet who advises his son, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” The Bard knew better. Borrowing and the resultant debt are rational, healthy aspects of economic life.
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  • Pistole says DOJ policy saved Trump from indictment
    “There’s a lot of detail in there. It begs the question about if he wasn’t president, would he be indicted? That was much more powerful, and that’s why we saw some comments from the president’s team that did not accurately capture (Mueller’s) team’s findings.” - Anderson University President John S. Pistole, who served as deputy director of the FBI from October 2004 to May 2010, reacting to the Mueller report to the Anderson Herald-Bulletin. He was commenting on Department of Justice policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, which was the rationale Special Counsel Robert Mueller used in not indicting President Trump on obstruction of justice charges. Pistole said the DOJ is not required to hold to its policy. “Again a policy is not a law. It’s not a statute. Policies are overruled,” he said.
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  • Sen. Birch Bayh memorial service set for May 1 at Statehouse
    A memorial service honoring the career of Indiana’s former United States Senator and House Speaker Birch Bayh (1928-2019) will be held Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at noon EDT in the south atrium of the Indiana Statehouse.  Among those remembering Sen. Bayh’s accomplishments will be Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma, Purdue President Mitch Daniels, former Congressmen Lee Hamilton and Baron Hill, and Federal District Court Chief Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson.

    Indiana’s former Secretary of State, Governor and United States Senator Evan Bayh and Indianapolis attorney Christopher Bayh will eulogize their father.  Former First Lady Susan Bayh will attend, as will their sons Beau (2LT, USMC) and Nick (2LT, USA).  Sen. Bayh’s widow, Katherine “Kitty” Bayh (née Halpin), will read a poem written by the Senator.

    The event is open to the public and no RSVPs are necessary.  Attendees should enter the Statehouse from either the upper east (Capitol Street) or lower west (Senate Avenue) entrances.  While the Indiana General Assembly is not scheduled to be in session, attendees should adjust for parking challenges in the vicinity of the Statehouse. 
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