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Monday, August 19, 2019
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  • INDIANAPOLIS — We’ve all heard the Social Security Trust Fund will no longer be able to finance Social Security payments in full after 20xx. We say “xx” because the date keeps changing. When folks think about Social Security, what mostly comes to mind is the Old Age Insurance aspect of the program. But there’s also a vital role played by Survivors’ Insurance for spouses and children and important Disability Insurance for those unable to work.  Why is this safety net, this trust fund, running out of money? For several reasons: We are living longer than expected. People are retiring too early. Congress gave an increase in benefits that was too generous. Too many people are claiming disability benefits for which they do not qualify. There are more disabled people than we ever anticipated.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis is preparing to celebrate its 200th birthday or anniversary. But Indianapolis isn’t that village invented by the General Assembly on the banks of the White River. Fifty years ago, Indianapolis took an important step forward by establishing Unigov. It was an imperfect consolidation of governmental units which has remained virtually unchanged for half a century. Today’s real Indianapolis is a composite of nine counties with a host of cities and towns, most of them remnants of pastoral villages, each battling to be “something.” Today, the mayor of Indianapolis speaks of regionalism. His is a genteel appeal to overturn inequities, either created or endorsed by the Indiana General Assembly, that home of irrational and irresponsible 18th-century sentimentality.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - “You know you’re making something out of nothing,” Faye de la Forêt admonished me. She was back on the deck railing, but no longer the rustic forest nymph. No, in her sequined green tunic, she had acquired airs. “It’s not nothing,” I responded. “The Reynolds tractor Xmas light show, along I-69 in Fishers, is moving to Conner Prairie. I’m allowed to complain, not about a private company making a big donation to a not-for-profit history museum, but about the privatization of what used to be a public event.” “Wrong again,” she smiled her voluptuous smile. “That brilliant annual display was a hazard to traffic. Now it will not be a danger to the public, but it will have an admission charge.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — In this space we’ve discussed the plight of Indiana’s many smaller towns edging toward extinction as viable economic communities. This has even become a topic for political lip-service with emphasis on individual places rather than a systemic approach to a statewide problem. The stagnation and decline of once thriving mid-sized Hoosier cities cause hands to be wrung and construction projects to be initiated that have little chance to make substantive change possible. Terre Haute’s numbers are virtually unchanged in this decade. Evansville and Richmond had population declines of 2% and 4% respectively. Lake County saw 12 of its 17 municipalities lose population from 2010 to 2018. How has the state responded? Federal funds for the most part will be used to build a questionable nine-mile mega-million-dollar extension of a commuter rail line. The South Shore serves downtown Chicago, but job growth in the southern portions of the Chicago metro area may be far more important. No public transit from Indiana serves those jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been a while since we looked at state and county labor market changes. So, I pulled up the number of persons employed and the number unemployed as reported by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest month I found was May 2019 for counties, June for states. But I dare not use unmatched months for fear some partisan critic would say I was cherry-picking the data by not using the same month. Of course, I’ve been doing this long enough to realize it doesn’t matter. Critics will carp regardless of the starting and ending points of any analysis. Anyway, from May 2017 to the same month in 2019, the number of persons employed rose by 3.7 million (2.4%) in the U.S. During the same time, the number unemployed fell by 1.1 million (a healthy decline of 16.7%).
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — The 2020 Census is coming! Yes, that’s going to be more fun than the 2020 elections. We’ll learn something from the decennial Census. Dyspepsia is all we can expect from the quadrennial elections. The Census will give us a better understanding of our communities compared with others in the nation. Nonetheless, we are not suffering from a lack of data. Unfortunately, too few Hoosiers know what is to be known about our communities. For example, the nation has 383 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Indiana has eight of those metros entirely within our borders. In addition, we can count Evansville as a ninth, although it does have a Kentucky county included. Furthermore, Indiana has four counties in the Chicago MSA, three in the Cincinnati MSA, and five in Louisville’s MSA. How do we compare with metro areas in other places? Consider population. In 2017, only the Indianapolis MSA (I am leaving off the names of other places in the MSA titles) was in the 100 most populous metro areas, ranking 34th.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Last week, the governor of Missouri was interviewed on NPR and stated that farming was the number one industry in his state. I’ve heard the same claim from Indiana politicians. In fact, one Hoosier solon claimed farming was “the backbone of Indiana’s economy.” I responded, “Every corpse has a backbone.”  Why do people in Missouri and Indiana believe such exaggeration? Perhaps, at one time (in the 19th century) it was true. Farming does take up a lot of the land we see when traveling from one place to another. Plus, the farm lobby is still disproportionately strong. How important is farming? Folks from Purdue love to say, “If you eat, you’re are part of farming.” Oh, so true! Plus, if you eat, you’re part of trucking, dentistry, and waste disposal. Let’s look at three different measures not provided by the biggest farm lobby of all, the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
     First, value added, the part of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), our basic measure of economic activity, attributed to Agriculture nationally (including farming, forestry, fisheries and hunting) is 0.8%, or 19th of 19 private sector industries. Number one is (drum roll… ) real estate, rental and leasing at 13.3%, followed by manufacturing at 11.4% of GDP. To be blunt, total value added from farming is less than 0.8% of the U.S. economy.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – You don’t want to hear it, but fractions are important. They guide our lives. The unemployment rate. The pollen count. The interest rate. The speed of a car. All are fractions with numerators (the numbers on top) and denominators (the numbers on the bottom). Per capita personal income (PCPI) is a fraction that became the holy economic grail for Hoosier politicians. What do they know of that annual numeric stew cooked by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis? PCPI is personal income divided by population? Yeah, but personal income is not the amount you report to the IRS. The top of the fraction (personal income) includes money paid by employers for Social Security, unemployment insurance and other sums you don’t see. Plus there’s dividend, interest and rental income “imputed” to you. Also included is the value of government payments you get (Social Security) or made on your behalf by government (Medicare and Medicaid).
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Once upon a time, in the Hoosier Holyland, our focus was on companies. How can we convince them to move to or expand in Indiana? What do they want? What can we give them to induce their capital expenditures within our borders? We could hear that wonderful Fats Waller song: “Find out what they like, and how they like it, and let them have it just that way.”  Proximity to a golf course, an interstate highway, an open sewer? We have it. Tax breaks? We’ll break every tax in the book. Compliant workers? You’ll never hear a mumblin’ word. Every county has a building just waiting for your company. Regulation is not the Hoosier way. Safety is a personal matter. Our motto is “No frills, no bills.” We’re comfortable being close to the bottom in most state rankings for education, environment, and economic progress.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - The new green is on the trees and the forest floor in front of me. Vibrant blues and startling yellows burst from hidden recesses in the leaves of last year. And Faye of the Forest is perched on the deck railing beyond my window. It’s raining, but she sits there, adjusting her hair, inspecting her nails, and smiling. I step to the open door and ask, “What are you smiling about?” “Why not?” she asks in return. “It’s a lovely day leading to an energizing season.” “Energizing? Agonizing,” I counter. “Don’t you realize millions of young Americans in high schools and colleges are talking to counselors or searching the web to find out what different jobs in different places pay?”
  • 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.
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  • Gov. Holcomb on Eva Kor: 'We lost a giant'
    “We lost a giant. A 4-foot-11 giant.” - Gov. Eric Holcomb in a Sunday memorial service in Indianapolis honoring the late Eva Mozes Kor, who died in Poland in July near the Auschwitz concentration camp where she was imprisoned during World War II. Kor immigrated to Terre Haute and founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum.
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  • A son's eulogy to Father

    We gather here today to celebrate the life of Jack Eugene Howey. It was the proverbial life well lived for 93 years. As I stand here, I remember Dad’s advice to the various Methodist pastors he worked with over the years: A sermon should never last longer than 13.5 minutes, so I am on the clock.

    These past 10 months have been tough on our family as we watched a great man recede and his memories launch out into an endless expanse of time.

    Our family rallied around not only him, but also our Mother. The two of them shared an extraordinary 68 years together that began in the offices of the Indiana Daily Student at IU. They would have three children, six grandchildren. They would be among the first Western journalists to cross from Israel to Jordan on the Allenby Bridge just months after the Six Day War. They would witness topless mermaids cavorting in a huge jar at a Beirut casino, and go to a party with Abe Rosenthal and Punch Sulzberger of the New York Times in a penthouse overlooking Central Park where they hung out with Theodore White and Walter Cronkite. They would be in the room when President Nixon told a startled nation he was not a crook.

    Together they attended scores of concerts, Little League games, and Bridge games. Ever since that day at Lake Yellowwood when Dad said he was seeking a wife and gave her 10 minutes to decide, they were a fabulous partnership. Dad embraced his fatherhood, sending “Secret Friend” letters to us on our birthdays, going on Scout trips, excursions to the beach and other family vacations. And, of course, there were the annual pilgrimages to Chicago White Sox games. They ran a household where kids in the neighborhood could come and go.
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