ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: By changing our clocks, Hoosiers show progress

May 9, 2005

The state of Indiana ended its isolation as a land of never-changing clocks when the Legislature gave its approval to a bill mandating the practice of daylight-saving time that has been the national standard for almost a quarter century. Next April, the question of what time it is in Indiana, from the point of view of the 98 percent of the domestic economy outside our borders, should finally be put to rest.

That makes you either very happy or very angry, according to polls and lunchroom conversations heard around the state. But what's new about that? Add it to the Iraq War, Social Security and what seems to be an endless number of polarizing issues in political debate nowadays. If we are to avoid action on issues where people have strong opinions, then we have no business electing leaders.

You certainly can't fault the media for not covering this debate. The airwaves have been jammed with every morsel of news on the issue, crowding out what are arguably more important matters before our lawmakers and our state.

But a backlash against the seeming triviality of how and when we adjust our clocks is also a familiar part of the Indiana political landscape. It's certainly a reasonable reaction to the energy and effort expended on adopting DST. After all, changing our clocks twice a year won't instantly transform our work force into one with higher skills and more education, or change the fact that Indiana workers earn 88 cents for every dollar the average worker makes nationwide.

If those are the kinds of economic changes DST backers promised, and that DST skeptics are waiting to see, there is going to be plenty of disappointment. As a substantive issue that directly affects the Indiana economy, daylight-saving time is probably only of marginal significance. I say probably, because answering the question would require careful study and analysis, which may or may not confirm our preconceptions.

But as a symbolic break from the past toward a fuller recognition of what needs to be done to more fully participate in national economic growth, the simple act of changing clocks twice a year is much more significant. And it serves as an important reminder of what government can, and should, do to facilitate our economic growth.

Indiana's reluctance to change its practices and traditions to conform with national trends is a long-standing one. We were the last state in the Midwest to mandate formal education for our children. Our single-class high school basketball tournament system persisted well after most other states had adopted separate trophies based on class size. And we have sometimes turned back dollars to the federal government rather than accept the attached conditions and restrictions.

In a much earlier era, when self-reliant agriculture was the bedrock of the economy, that aspect of Hoosier life was admirable, and sometimes even advantageous. But in an advanced economy where prosperity ultimately stems from private-sector investment and where our competition is every other state, going our own way is risky and sometimes foolish. Fighting off changes like DST may make our own lives more convenient, but if it discourages the investment and the influx of the non-Hoosiers who have the skills and talents to help grow our economy that we seek to attract, it is a battle we don't want to win.

For me, the most encouraging aspect of the DST outcome is that it exemplifies what I think state government should be doing-namely, creating a better climate for economic growth. The public sector is not where jobs are created. But it can be a place where plenty of jobs are destroyed. Thanks to the courage of our elected leaders, that number just got a bit smaller.



Barkey is an economist and director of economic and policy studies at the Miller College of Business, Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached by e-mail at pbarkey@ibj.com.
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