MARCUS: The people speak - who is listening?

October 31, 2009

Occasionally, I go to hear the voice of the people at the mall. Rainy days are good for this exercise. No one is in a hurry to get drenched in the parking lot.

In the interest of privacy, I do not ask the names of those who talk to me.

I ask Citizen 1: “Tell me sir, how do you feel about Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages?”

Citizen 1: “I’m for it. About time we let people buy what they want, when and where they want to buy it. If you don’t want to buy booze on Sunday, for whatever reason, that’s your business. Government should keep its long nose out of business as much as possible.”

I ask: “Aren’t you concerned about driving mom-and-pop stores out of the liquor business?”

Citizen 1: “No liquor store I’ve been to in 30 years has been run by a mom and a pop. That’s like worrying about the family bank, the family filling station and the mom-and-pop chicken farm. False sentimentality being used as a crutch for public policy is what I call it.”

I turn to Citizen 2: “And you, madam?”

“And I what?” she asks.

“Are you prepared to vote on the referendum on Nov. 3?” I inquire.

Citizen 2: “Vote on what?”

“The referendum,” I repeat. “This county and others are required by the state Legislature to hold a referendum on certain matters. How will you vote?”

Citizen 2: “Don’t know anything about it, don’t want to know anything about it, and wouldn’t care if I did know something about it.”

“But madam,” I say, “your Legislature has given you the chance to speak on a matter of importance. How can you turn your back on this opportunity for democracy?”

“Balderdash,” she says. “Those folks who run politics in this state have cooked spaghetti for spines. They won’t decide tough questions for themselves if they can pass them along. They pass the buck to local officials or to voters who couldn’t decide if the sun is shining. We elect people to public office to make tough decisions and all they can do is avoid responsibility. It’s like I told Alvin, my husband, just the other day. ‘Alvin,’ I said … .”

I turn to Citizen 3: “Sir, a moment please. Could you tell me if the recession is over?”

Citizen 3: “She hasn’t told me yet,” he says, pointing to Citizen 2.

I ask: “What have you observed, sir?”

Citizen 3: “Well,”—there is an extended pause—“the parking lot sure is full outside and seems like there are cars waiting at each traffic light, which we didn’t see a few months ago. And then there are lines at some restaurants on Friday nights, which means somebody’s got money to spend.”

I ask: “Then you are ready to agree with 80 percent of economists who say the recession is over and a recovery has begun?”

Citizen 3: “I’m not saying anything like that until she tells me.”

Then I snare Citizen 4: “What is your stance on the health debate?”

Citizen 4: “What debate? Nobody is debating. It’s all about who gets how much money. They’ve got their knives out. They’re carving up a pie everyone wants to make bigger than last year’s pie. The doctors, the drug companies, the patients, the hospitals, the insurance companies, the employers—everyone wants more and wants some other guy to get less.

“There’s no discussion of my bunion. What’s to be done? You should see this bunion. Am I supposed to pay for it? Or are you going to pay for it? Tell me.”

At that point, I left the mall and retreated to my car, which nature had washed for free.•


Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.


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