Last month, The New York Times ran a story under the headline “The Indiana Exception? Yes, but …” The story gave a factual presentation of our state’s economic circumstances, but with an overriding sarcasm that left a bad taste in Hoosier mouths.
Probably this piece was assigned before our governor withdrew from the presidential primary race. However, since the reporters had already done the work, and it was a slow news day, an article depicting the difficulties of the denizens of Indiana must have seemed harmless.
The problems of Indiana remain unchanged by receiving attention in the Times. Some of our fellow citizens were incensed by the Times story; others shrugged and continued to wait for the basketball season.
Despite growth in real personal income for six consecutive quarters, the Hoosier state demonstrates little more than mediocre economic advances. In the first quarter of this year, real personal income rose 0.86 percent in Indiana and 0.84 percent in the nation. Few can rejoice over such statistical noise.
For the past year, we grew 3.05 percent; the nation, 3.09 percent. Since the start of the recent recession, Indiana scratched out a mere 0.17-percent growth in real personal income while the nation limped in at 0.66 percent.
This is our ongoing problem. In good times and bad, Indiana generally fails to match or exceed the national rate of growth. We may not choose the hardships of a leadership position, but dare we settle for 25th or 33rd position in the economic derby of the 50 states?
We boast that our fiscal position is sound, but we cannot claim our public services meet responsible standards. Part of the problem is money. We don’t want to invest in Indiana.
We want the private sector to invest in our state, but the necessary public investments in education, public health, public safety and transportation are lacking. Our political leaders fear a public that does not see the connection between private affluence and public goods, a public unwilling to bear higher taxes or fees in exchange for improved public services.
Only by leasing the Toll Road was the governor able to finance significant infrastructure improvements. Only by selling off or leasing public facilities can the Indianapolis mayor pave the most damaged streets in his city. Only by clinging to gambling money can communities from Evansville and Vevay to East Chicago and Hammond finance necessary projects.
Our repeatedly re-elected General Assembly insists on making paupers of our cities, towns, counties and school districts. These local governments now beg for funding to maintain ordinary public services.
Would anyone want to invest in Indiana when the quality of our communities crumbles under the fiscal burden of a Tea Party mentality? Soon, our low taxes will be all that we have to offer investors.
Ironically, the Times was able to see all this while most Hoosiers remain blind to the disintegration of our state. And we were offended!
Few candidates for mayor this year and the two candidates-presumptive for governor in 2012 don’t talk about these matters. The so-called “social agenda” of abortion and gay marriage are more important to voters than the “survival agenda” of a state in danger of becoming a hole in the map between Detroit/Toledo and Chicago, Dayton/Louisville and St. Louis.
We have the money to flourish as a state. We lack sufficient insight and the necessary will to be more than mediocre.•
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 [email protected].