“The thought of Evan Bayh returning as governor of Indiana is as distasteful as the reality of Dan Coats being one of our senators yet again.” Such was the surprisingly candid view of Indiana’s third U.S. senator, the Honorable Phineas Fogghorn.
“Senator,” I stammered. “I’ve never heard you say a bad word about another political person.”
“Son,” he confided, “never before have I made any disparaging remarks about my fellow senators nor will you hear me offer such comments publicly hereafter. I say this to you in utter confidence, knowing that your four near-comatose readers will not repeat it.”
“Your words are safe,” I assured him.
“Son,” he continued, “I say when an elected official leaves an office, he or she should not re-enter it except under the most dire of circumstances. The few successes of a career will never outweigh the failures that mount up against the marble statue. Each term in office, with rare exception, is characterized by goals unmet rather than the chance achievements.”
“That’s a heavy burden,” I say.
“Heavy hangs the head of your humble servant,” Phineas sighed.
“But,” I interjected before this sprinkle of regret became a torrent of remorse. “But, I hear so much good news about Indiana, how can you be so sad?”
“Good news,” he scoffed. “Struggling little flowers and brave aspiring twigs in the dank forest of our state’s economy. They make good stories for those who choose to ignore reality. Truth requires a large canvas, not the narrow focus of a miniature.”
The great mane of white hair was bowed until he spoke again.
“In my years in office (1979 to the present), Indiana has slipped from 12th in population among the 50 states to 16th. We have been passed by Georgia, Virginia, Washington and Arizona. For the past three decades, our population growth rate has been below the national average.”
“Yes, but don’t we beat out the other four states in our Great Lakes region?” I added cheerily.
“Ah,” he smiled. “We can claim to be the best of the slowest-growing region in the nation. Yet, our per-capita personal income has dropped from 95 percent of the national average in 1979 to just 85 percent in 2009. That did not happen overnight; it’s not an artifact of the recent recession alone.
“If we could have been mediocre, just kept pace with national job growth over the past 30 years, there would be 323,000 more jobs today in Indiana than we currently have.”
“Population growth, job growth, income growth,” I protested, “Senator, many Hoosiers aren’t sure they want that kind of life.”
“In my numerous years as a public servant,” he confided, “too often have I represented the views of my constituents rather than their best interests. It has led to my Indiana becoming more dependent on jobs in neighboring states to sustain our communities. In 30 years, again nothing sudden, just slow erosion, we’ve had a doubling of the percentage of income derived by Hoosiers from work outside Indiana.
“Young fella,” he said, “if it weren’t for jobs in the Chicago, Cincinnati and Louisville areas, we’d be in even worse shape than we are. We’d have even higher unemployment rates and/or a still more significant outflow of workers who would become residents of other states.
“Our politicians, myself included, have failed to reverse or even modify these trends. Despite our protestations, we have failed and voters, deluded by cheery news releases, keep returning us to office.”
I wasn’t prepared to argue that one.•
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.