EYE ON THE PIE: Primaries and prudence demand attention

February 25, 2008

Today-not tomorrow or next week, but now-is the moment to get involved in improving your life and the lives of your family and neighbors. Don't delay. All you need do is both of two simple things.

First, find out who is running in the primary election on May 6 for the Indiana House of Representatives and Senate from your district. Yes, the national news media have told us that our Indiana primary may be meaningless. They are referring to the presidential primaries. Those races may be over by May 6. But the equally important races for the General Assembly will still be alive, if you act now.

Is the incumbent someone you want to continue in office? Or is it time for someone with a new perspective representing you? Dig in and participate in the primary campaign. Give a few bucks to the person you think will do the best job. Give a few hours to helping that person get out his/her message.

The election of 2008 is a prime opportunity to demonstrate that Hoosiers are not always emotionally disturbed. In contrast to the knee-jerk, wholesale dismissal of mayors by an enraged electorate in 2007, we could have a reasoned campaign focused on a feasible reality. But this means careful selection in the primaries of our candidates for the Legislature.

In too many House and Senate districts, the cards are stacked. Democrats will win here and Republicans will win there, regardless of who the candidates might be. That's what makes the primaries so important. If you want change in your representation, it may be possible only in the primary election on May 6.

Second, if you want to make a difference in your life and the lives of those around you, buy only what you can afford. That's not novel advice. But it is crucial if we are to revolutionize America and sustain prosperity.

Too many of us have ridden the merrygo-round of consumption and debt. We have bought too many homes when we should have rented and waited. We have bought too much furniture, too many TV sets, too many vacations, too many electronic toys. We have too many pets. We use too much health care. We drive too much in cars that are too big for our needs.

And we do most of this with too much debt. We send our children to college, but insist they take out student loans because we have not saved enough for their educations. We borrow against the equity in our homes, not to upgrade those houses, but to pay for something we cannot otherwise afford. We use credit cards not for convenience, but to finance every possible trivial and necessary purchase ... and we spend too much paying interest on all that debt because we are too immature to control our desires.

It does not take any particular genius to say, "If I don't have the money in my pocket or in my bank account, I will not buy this." If we did this, America's economy would be strengthened as money would flow to investors at lower interest rates rather than to consumers at higher rates. Tax cuts for business would not be necessary and the Federal Reserve would not have to cut its lending rates.

Rather than sticking your head out the window and yelling, "I'm mad as hell and I won't take it anymore," just stop buying what you cannot afford. Take your tax refund, if you ever get it, and pay down existing bills. Don't be fooled into believing you have a responsibility to buy everything that is offered.

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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