Hard Times Make a Good Argument

September 21, 2009

For release Sept. 23 and thereafter (591 words)

As Indiana’s urban mayors prepared to meet in scenic French Lick, and as governors and congressmen returned from exotic locales, an ex-councilman in Terre Haute was doing some serious thinking about how his state could survive this economy.

“It’s time — long past time actually — to recognize that the right and better course of action is for taxpayers to keep a great deal more of their money (i.e., their property),” he wrote in his local newspaper last week. “It goes to the heart of the fiduciary duty of elected officials.”

Ryan Cummins, a former Marine artillery officer and the owner of a longtime family business in Terre Haute, went on to argue that “the vigorous support of free-market solutions is a winning political and policy solution that applies the tremendous options available in a free market to our problems.”

In his two terms, Cummins voted against dozens of economic development strategies such as those to be dusted off at French Lick. Nor do overseas trade missions to giant international corporations make much sense to him.

All of this lacks an appreciation of why individual investors might invest in Indiana, he says, especially in the small privately held shops and firms that create most of our new jobs. Undaunted, Cummins likes to quote the opening words of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”: 

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, but time makes more converts than reason.”

Indeed, opinion surveys show that the time voters have spent in this depressed economy has made an impression. Gallup’s annual Governance Poll finds that only 51 percent of Americans say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in their state government — down from 67 percent during the period 2004 to 2008. Voters appear on the verge of throwing everybody out, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal.

That may be one reason the rationale for mayoral confabs and foreign travel has been dressed up this year. They are said to be necessary to promote trade or exchange best practices. Nobody will quarrel with the intent. This past year, though, has proved such effort a pernicious waste of time. It is not a determiner of economic growth.

But small businessmen like Cummins will tell you that land-use reform, right-to-work laws and freedom from inheritance taxes are in fact such determiners.

People worldwide who invest their own money tend to make the same common-sense decisions: They choose places where the laws protect citizens from politically driven zoning restrictions, from compulsory unionism. They eschew the institutionalized envy built into inheritance and progressive taxation.

Changing any of that is politically difficult, extremely difficult. So we take summer trips to fun places and meet with friends at historic resorts.

The good times, however, no longer roll for many of us. We have lost our tolerance for the trappings of officialdom, for unbridled political ambition and for self-serving posture.

We may have lost it as well for restrictive zoning, tax rebates, public-private partnerships, appeals to corporate civic conscious, reaching across the aisle and all of that silliness. We certainly are fed up with cowardice in elected office, especially when it costs us jobs.

For there are Hoosiers sitting at tens of thousands of kitchen tables conducting solemn, late-night audits of family checkbooks. There, the sound economic policies of a Terre Haute councilman are becoming obvious. The times — the hard times — are making their converts.

Craig Ladwig is editor of The Indiana Policy Review.


1. Ryan Cummins’ original article can be downloaded here.

2. According to the American Family Business Foundation, Indiana is one of the states that has
decided to remain coupled with the federal inheritance tax, one that Congress is expected to renew in 2011 at a rate of as much as 55 percent of an estate’s value.


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