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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Parting thoughts on Indiana’s strengths, weaknesses

The nice thing about economics is that we never really figure anything out. That hasn’t stopped folks like me from writing about economics and papers like this one from printing what we have to say. As I often have said to those who have remarked on these writings, nature abhors a vacuum. Someone else will be filling that vacuum next week, because this is my last column-for Indiana readers, at least. I am happy to leave you in the capable…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: State economy began year with an impressive spurt

The economy constantly is serving up complex puzzles for us to solve. Have energy prices peaked? How much longer will mortgage markets continue to bleed? How will the dollar’s decline affect the low prices for imported goods? These are complex issues, and some of us actually earn a living trying to sort them all out. But sometimes we need to step away and address the simpler questions-such as: How does the economy grow? Of course, some might say “not at…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: How tax reform could fix ailing health care system

Will a new president and the next Congress finally take meaningful action to address the financial storm looming for health care? Perhaps. In the meantime, the pressures created by rising health care costs have been too strong for everyone else to wait. Businesses have been adapting to rising premiums for employer-provided coverage in predictable ways. And beginning with Massachusetts, states are responding to rising Medicaid costs by crafting solutions of their own. But much of the solution, whatever shape that…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: The link between taxes and high health care costs

“Things that can’t go on forever don’t.” If those famous words of the otherwise obscure Nixon-era economic adviser Herbert Stein apply to anything, it is health care spending. Most of us recognize that health care is expensive, breaking the budgets of many households, pressuring businesses and even challenging the spending capacity of giant federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid. What is less clear is why this is so, and what can, or should, be done about it. We spent more…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Band-Aid approaches won’t resolve property-tax fiasco

Well into my career as an economist, I used to have a recurring conversation with my now-departed father, who had wanted me to become a doctor. What would you have to do, he would say, if you decided today that you wanted to be an MD? Somehow, the list of actions I would tick off-quitting my job, taking several years of chemistry and biology, years of medical school and internships-never seemed to faze him, and he was always eager for…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Big Three carmakers’ slide will not be easy to reverse

The last writings of the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut portrayed the Americans of today as “drunk” on fossil fuels. Of course, that’s only partly true. What we’re really addicted to are the machines we pour the fuel into, especially the automobile. We have more registered vehicles in this country than we have drivers. In 2005, we collectively drove more than 3 trillion miles in our vehicles-15,000 miles for each of the nation’s 199 million drivers. And the numbers go up…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Long spoiled by low rates, nation now faces increase

It wasn’t long ago that writing an economic analysis column meant-surprise-that you analyzed the ups and downs of the economy. And if you came of age in the 1960s and ’70s, there were plenty of ups and downs to keep track of. Volatility in just about everything was higher then, with strikes, inflation and more frequent recessions the order of the day. And even though that environment has changed remarkably since the mid-’80s, the habit of peering at the data…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: What’s your favorite economic indicator?

If you like to hear news about the economy, the information age has been a boon. Leave your television set on one of the financial networks, and you’ll see tickers, graphs and animations whizzing by as talking heads digest and dissect every morsel of market and economic information. Tell your computer to alert you to any news about a company, a country or an industry and it will pop up with tidbits all day long. And for a few bucks,…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Will state’s job growth always trail nation’s?

You usually have to swallow your pride when it comes time to forecast the growth of the Indiana economy. That’s because no matter what your heart says, your head tells you what the best forecast will be. That is the one that pulls up well short of growth in the rest of the country. There are a lot of talented people working hard around the state trying to change that. And if the full truth be told, most of our…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Focusing on factory jobs misses the big picture

There’s been something peculiar going on in the business media in Indiana over the last few weeks. We’ve been beating ourselves up because the state is losing manufacturing jobs. Headlines about the decline are popping up, and state and local development officials are facing the bright light of media scrutiny. The chatter on Internet “talk-back” forums serves up plenty of people to blame-the governor, the unions, the Chinese and even our neighbors who buy imported goods. But if I could…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Taking the ultimate step in K-12 accountability

Everyone in business today knows that customers have choices, and that making and keeping customers happy with your product has always been a big part of the game. These days dissatisfied customers have many more options than simply walking away-they can go online and blast your product in cyberspace, attacking the image and reputation you may have spent a lifetime trying to build. That’s the daunting prospect American businesses face every day. Yet as difficult as that sounds, here’s one…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Scoring political points can cost state in long run

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about economic cycles-the boombust patterns of everything from housing to commodity prices-is that they keep economists and forecasters gainfully employed. John D. Rockefeller tried to eliminate them by controlling production and distribution. Franklin Roosevelt tried to cut them short by using the federal government checkbook. And Alan Greenspan, and now Ben Bernanke, keep trying to talk and cajole financial markets in the direction they think they should go. It hasn’t worked. Or,…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Wireless world making research more difficult

If you’re thinking of getting a job as a researcher, you should know it is a lonely life we lead. The world outside our offices sees issues in black and white that appear to us as infinite shades of gray. And when we occasionally emerge from our cubicles to deliver our results to the public, we are told either that we have a stranglehold on the obvious or that we have no concept of the real world. But the world…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Employers hope to save by promoting healthy living

“Mandates are a form of love,” a state legislator once said, explaining a vote that added requirements to privately funded health insurance programs statewide. And our governments evidently love all of us-businesses, individuals, and even other governments-very much. Our legislatures tell us the lowest wage we can pay our workers, the questions we can and cannot ask during job interviews, and how many gallons of water we use to flush our toilets. To the admittedly narrow-minded thinking of an economist,…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Signs of economic trouble are beginning to surface

There is a character in an old Hunter S. Thompson novel who shows up in every scene sweating profusely. Halfway through the book, he finally explains it-sweating is normal. It’s when he stops sweating that the alarm bells should sound. It’s a little like that with bankers. Except it’s not literally sweat, but worry. Bankers are always worried-about loan quality, interestrate spreads, renewed inflation, you name it. After all, the banking business is really business in general. How we collectively…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Does growth in health care drive our state’s economy?

Indiana households, businesses and governments spent more than $33 billion on health care products and services in 2004. We don’t have current data yet, but you can be sure the amount is higher today. That’s because growth in health care expenditures in the state has averaged a whopping 8.6 percent per year since 1980. In 2004, spending on hospital care, physician services, prescription drugs, nursing homes, and every other kind of health care product or service gobbled up 14.4 percent…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: State’s growth in incomes is still lagging the nation’s

It was 1980 when then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan asked audiences whether they were better off than four years earlier. It was smart politics-1980 was a recession year. But politics aside, it’s always a relevant question. For if the economy is not growing the pie that we all share, then those who manage it, not to mention those in political leadership roles, have cause for concern. But how do we answer such a question? With the due date for tax filings…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: The Great Society meets fiscal reality

Someone wise in matters of politics once said programs for the poor are poor programs. It remains true today-initiatives aimed at helping the most vulnerable in our society, be they privately or publicly funded, seem to be perpetually starved for funds. And so the genius of those who created the Social Security system-originally aimed at older Americans whose assets were devastated by the Great Depression in 1935-was to make the program available to all, regardless of income. In a few…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Jobs news is negative however you slice it

What’s the news on Indiana employment? Odd as it might seem, that phrase is almost a contradiction in terms. For while we do receive very timely, detailed information on how many jobs are carried on Indiana employers’ payrolls each month, the practical challenges in keeping close tabs on the latest zigs and zags in the 3 million-strong Hoosier labor force make the interpretation of the fresh data difficult. Only after the data have sat on the shelf for half a…

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ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Why economists don’t get invited to parties

To borrow a phrase from religion, there are among us a number of people who can be called “supermarket economists.” These are individuals who pick and choose the portions of economic doctrine they like, and ignore the conclusions of economics that do not suit their purposes. In public discourse, supermarket economists so greatly outnumber genuine economists that when one first encounters the real animal-usually in a college classroom-the reaction can be a mixture of shock and disappointment. Maybe that’s why…

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