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.”
“Exactly!” I said. “Just like the appropriation of Xmas lights by Newfields, the renamed home of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. We used to drive around neighborhoods to see private displays on homes, designed to best the efforts of others on the same street. Now institutions expect you to pay to walk!”
“It was old-fashioned conspicuous consumption,” Faye pronounced.
“Is there something wrong with pride of place?” I retorted.
“You’re just out-of-step with the modern world,” she said. “Today, homeowners don’t want strangers driving through their streets. Now, they have enclaves endowed with ‘cul-de-sacs.’ Now, we create destinations, controlled places where people go for experiences, including dinner and shopping. They’re called casinos, museums, and sports showcases.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “That was also the function of shopping centers, city markets, and downtown itself.”

“It’s also how communities compete with each other,” said Faye in her schoolmarm voice, bringing wisdom to the heathen.

“Is that ruinous or healthy competition?” I asked.

“As you economists would say, ‘Depends,’” she answered. “Smart cities and towns know what they are. Carmel, Fishers, Westfield, and Zionsville, despite their pretensions, are upscale dependencies of Indianapolis. Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting have become the poor relatives of Chicago.”

“So, with whom are they competing?” I asked.
“Everyone,” she replied.
“They need to cooperate with each other,” I said. “Form regional leagues, associations, and whatever the law will allow.”

“Oh,” Faye gasped. “You used the R-word. That’s blasphemy.”

“I know,” I said. “Cooperation is aspirational, spiritual; regionalism is akin to socialism, communism, and devil worship.”

“But it’s necessary in this century,” she said. “Nevertheless, you won’t find many candidates in contested races for a local office this year saying it out loud.”

“Unless localities take responsibility for their destinies,” I insisted, “they will be at the mercy of both natural and market forces. Climate change is a national challenge, but the market yields unpredictable tests dominated by forceful people focused on their own agendas.”

Faye laughed, “To say nothing of being subjected to the whimsies of state government.” Then she gathered herself and launched effortlessly into the forest.  
Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or at