Economy and Government

EYE ON THE PIE: If you make a mistake, then 'fess up to it

August 28, 2006

I spoke at a meeting last week on the prospective impact of Honda in Greensburg on the Columbus economy. Several speakers had preceded me and I did not know what they had said, since I arrived an hour late. Naturally, I apologized for my tardiness. Punctuality is a virtue in societies, like ours, that value efficiency above comfort.

Then I proceeded, unwittingly, to make a fool of myself. I proclaimed, in my best stentorian manner, that the key factor for Columbus was the quality of its connection to Greensburg, State Road 46. Thereupon, I detailed the deficiencies of S.R. 46, its narrowness and its tight curves. I lamented the fact that improvement of S.R. 46 was not on the list for the Major Moves highway program.

Although I asked the audience of 250 or so attentive citizens if my observations were correct, none raised a hand to inform me of the truth. In fact, several came up to me afterward and said they agreed with my remarks. It was not until I was leaving the building that a gentleman called me aside and told me about the recently completed $22 million in improvements to S.R. 46.

At that point, I became fully aware of my size 12 shoe in my mouth.

Upon leaving Columbus, I drove east to Greensburg to experience the improved road. Today, the curves are not as sharp, the road is wider, the hills are less steep, and the shoulders are more generous. On today's S.R. 46, Landon Turner's spectacular basketball career might not have ended tragically as it did in 1981.

These highway improvements, however, might not be sufficient to forge stronger commuting and commercial links between Greensburg and Columbus. Much will depend on how competitive Columbus is with other places, particularly along Interstate 74, in terms of housing, schools and retail opportunities.

Apologies for errors are necessary if we are to retain the trust of others. Thus, with much delight, we have seen the governor and his administration take unusual steps to apologize for the deficiencies of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Instead of trying to minimize the foulups, Mitch Daniels has been forthright in recognizing them and seeking to correct them. There is a long history of computer problems in state government, under the administrations of both parties, in many agencies. This is the first time I can recall such a clear admission of the problems and an acceptance of responsibility by the governor and his administration.

How much would our trust in government, business and our neighbors be improved if errors were acknowledged openly? Why do those who make mistakes so often seek to deny them? Do they really believe we are fooled by their posturing?

We would need must less government regulation of business if firms would police themselves, admit their mistakes, and make restitution where appropriate. Instead, we have massive litigation to determine liability and damages. We have government inspections and investigations because the private sector cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

Imagine how much better we would all feel about our country if we had a national government that was willing to recognize its mistakes. However, the current administration cannot see its many errors. It denies the wrongs committed in the name of national security. It refuses to admit its policy in Iraq is a failure. It is blind to its wasteful and misguided economic policies. It does not comprehend how its efforts are destroying the social and economic security of the American people.

Confession is good for the soul. It is vital to trust in society.



Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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