SHEPARD: Let's view Carrier deal from glass-half-full perspective

December 10, 2016

The ink wasn’t actually dry yet on the agreement between Carrier Corp. and the state and federal governments when IBJ discovered university scholars who were prepared to declare we “shouldn’t get too excited” about the deal.

I propose that there are at least two reasons for some excitement. First, the new administration has shown it takes the value of manufacturing jobs seriously enough that it wanted to signal that the Trump/Pence team planned on energetic actions for this central segment of the American economy. Second, the Carrier events suggest how valuable it can be for Indiana that Gov. Mike Pence is about to take the oath as vice president.

The economists who saw the Carrier glass as half-empty said these recent events represented a “spot solution” rather than a policy or a strategy. “It’s not easily replicated,” said one. Another suggested the transaction could theoretically open a “floodgate” for businesses seeking tax breaks.

Well, yes, right enough, but broader consideration of what the nation’s new leaders have done in the weeks before taking office should lead to more fulsome conclusions.

Doesn’t the Carrier transaction suggest a political commitment to take early action on tax policies that might advance the competitiveness of American workers and their employers? Might it likewise be seen as demonstrating determination to be tough, hopefully not overly protectionist, about trade policy? And committed to repatriating the mass of money our corporations now keep overseas because of existing tax laws?

The value of such actions for American manufacturing is especially weighty for Indiana. We lead the country in the proportion of our workforce engaged in manufacturing. Manufacturing and related industries provide us with 1.1 million jobs. A growing number of these jobs are in fields like high-performance computing, advanced robotics, and green processes and products.

A successful national strategy to empower Carrier 1.0 jobs and Carrier-type 2.0 jobs has to be excellent news for Indiana. Winning in the global economic race, as Purdue University’s Anson Soderbery has pointed out even while doubting the value of the Carrier project, will also require major initiatives in post-secondary education and training. Tax and regulatory policies must be joined at the hip by actions that will assure us a competitive workforce.

The second significant feature of the Carrier events is the demonstrated impact of having a former Indiana governor as the country’s second-highest official.

Are we sure this recent drama would have turned out the same way if the plant in question were in Oregon? After all, moving jobs to other countries is a fairly regular situation visible in many parts of the country. Isn’t it likely that the willingness of the president-elect to take such a strong position on the plight of a group of Indiana employees has something to do with the fact that his running mate is our governor?

To be sure, individuals elected to national office must always strive to represent the interests of the entire country. Still, it will be very valuable that someone who takes his Indiana roots so seriously will be at the table when important decisions are made in the White House.

Recent events suggest something else about government that ought to be cause for hopefulness. Yes, the best arrangements are policies that affect and benefit the whole country. But we’d also like to think, wouldn’t we, that our leaders would regularly find time and energy to delve into the plight of individuals or groups who’ve experienced special pain.

At the end of the day, there’s every reason to look at the Carrier rescue and say, “Bravo!”•


Shepard, formerly Indiana chief justice, now serves as senior judge and teaches law. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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