Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Losing jobs is like a natural disaster

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 10:48 AM

click to enlarge money-tornado-banner_2.png

There is a common, comforting acceptance that "What is, is." However, any disturbance (actual or anticipated) of "What is" may become unreasonable fear. See those daily stock market reports. Emotionally and economically, we (Hoosiers, Americans, all humans?) are unprepared for change, although we will blithely insist, "The only constant is change."

Thus, when oil prices fall, select individuals, companies, communities and countries which depend on those prices suffer severely. Likewise, a rise in those same prices brings hardship to a different set of entities.

What should we do when companies leave town, abandoning workers, relationships, and property? That is hardly different from natural disasters and their effects on those left behind, disadvantaged by forces beyond their control. How do we help flood victims, corn farmers, or oil field workers? Should we take the health care route?

In health care, we once believed in strange mists and devilish spirits. Ultimately, we blamed the sick for getting sick. They failed to take the precautions advised by grandparents and, more recently, by research. Afterward, we set up systems requiring private insurance (sharing the risk with others). Finally, we accepted the burden of illness as a public responsibility and pay for it, partially, through government aid.

Similarly, we turn business decisions into public policy events. We are too quick to pay companies to locate or expand in our communities. We then feel betrayed if they leave for the sweet wine flowing elsewhere.

Today in Indiana, there is a loud pounding of chests because United Technologies will close manufacturing facilities in Indianapolis and Huntington. About 2,100 jobs will be lost as production moves to Mexico.

Yet Indiana is the self-declared business-friendly state. How can we protest when firms decide that other states are more attractive? Are we conservatives being jilted by companies moving elsewhere?

Economic freedom, as we understand it, permits businesses and households to move as they please. What they leave behind in damaged workers, spoiled neighborhoods, lapsed business relationships, and environmental hazards often become governments' responsibility. In that case, retraining workers and preserving prior living conditions could require higher taxes on companies to pay for the economic dislocation they cause.

For years we've had "unemployment insurance." Ultimately that "insurance" is paid for by workers through lower wages and fewer jobs.

Is the next step to require workers to buy private insurance in case a job is lost for reasons beyond the control of the worker? Isn't that the health care solution given us by a Congress, the same Congress that now calls it "Obamacare?"

Losing jobs might be as natural as floods, tornados and blizzards. We shouldn't be surprised when jobs are lost, nor should we overreact with the simian chest thumping seen recently among public officials.

My former dean used to say, "We must all learn to play the accordion, to make music as we expand and contract."

Our leaders should be doing that now, but Pence has chosen not to thus far.

Statesmen choose differently.

The governor's announced intent to nominate Eric Holcomb to replace Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, is important because he can't actually nominate him until there actually is a vacancy. That much is clear in the Constitution, that pesky document that all of our state leaders swear to uphold, protect and defend in their oath of office. The details matter on this one, and the lack respect given them speaks volumes.

Next, the odds on favorite to win the U.S. Senate race, Congressman Todd Young, allegedly came up short in required petition signatures to be on the ballot this spring in the Republican primary. Details, details. As Matt Tully of The Indianapolis Star opined, objecting to these details is "petty." Tell that to newly reelected Mayor Terry Seitz of Jasper, Indiana, whose recent reelectionquest ended in a tie. The tie was broken by a disqualified absentee ballot due to a missing signature.

Matt Tully, your wrongness could not be more ironically timed.

I am writing this column a couple of hours after the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Shortly after his death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the replacement of Scalia should wait until after the election nine months from now. Control of the Senate matters on this one as much as the presidential election, since the Senate must confirm the appointment.

But waiting until at least January would be unprecedented by a mile. In presidential election years, 14 justices have been confirmed. So is the challenge to Todd Young's placement on the ballot truly "petty" or is it profoundly important?

The fact is that the details are what make us who we are. There is no arena where that is truer than it is in governing.

Both the Indiana and the U.S. Constitutions define who we are in a broad way. Generations have passed since these documents were ratified and the details are still being worked out. Respectfully paying attention to those details is how our leaders should base their approach to governing.

That is how we make progress.

I have said "the devil is in the detail" countless times. And it is true. But I really enjoyed finding the original quote to instead be about God. Maybe from that perspective, we will be more likely to agree on how important the details truly are. n

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Morton Marcus

Morton Marcus

Mr. Marcus is an economist, writer, and speaker who may be reached at

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