By Morton Marcus
Snow Flake wears a “Hippie for Goldwater” pin and a “Make Indiana Great Again” cap. After she reads a draft of the column intended for this week, she says, “Rewrite it.”
I’m aghast. No one has ever told me to rewrite an entire column. Seething, I ask, “Why?”
“It doesn’t promote the policy needed in this country,’ she says. “It fails to advocate civic and environmental responsibility, an end to urban sprawl and a restoration of family life by reducing cross-county commuting.”
“Snow,” I answer, “this is just a column pointing out the magnitudes of money that cross Hoosier county lines by commuting, something like $63 billion in 2015.”
“We’d be better off,” she responds, “if that money stayed where it was made. People ought to live where they work and work where they live. All this commuting causes time lost in needless travel, excess use of energy, pollution, congestion and alienation from community.”
“Hardly useless,” I insist. “Commuting allows workers greater choice in jobs and families greater choice in residences.”
“But it rips people out of their communities,” Snow says. “What interest do you have in the problems of the county in which you work, if you live elsewhere? And commuters probably have less time or concern with their home county because it is not the source of their livelihoods.”
“Reality …” I start to say. But she interrupts, “Don’t give me your take on reality. Each county, each state, each nation needs to do what’s best for itself.
“Over a billion dollars a year are stolen via commuting from each of six Indiana counties: Marion, Elkhart, Vanderburgh, Allen, Bartholomew and Tippecanoe. They’re the biggest of the 19 exporters of earnings in the state.
“The other 73 counties are leeches,” she continues, “sucking the life out of the exporting counties that give up their land, endure the traffic and risk decades of pollution by providing jobs to people who don’t live there.”
“That’s a horrifying picture of our society,” I say.
“We can change it,” Snow says. “Charge fees on vehicles with out-of-county license plates for parking in our county. Place a tax on the income of non-residents. Tax employers who hire out-of-county workers or give them tax breaks for hiring in-county workers.”
“Some of those ideas have been tried,” I say. “But, economies work best when goods, services, capital and people can cross boundaries freely.”
“That’s old-style thinking,” Snow smirks. “We all know that taking care of ourselves first is the best way to increase the welfare of everyone.
“That would mean no inter-state commuting?” I say.
“Right on!” she says. “If you work in Chicago or Louisville or Cincinnati, go live there or find a job in your home county.”
“That policy would deprive Hoosiers of about $5.8 billion in earnings,” I note.
“There’s more to life than money,” Snow chants. “Change your column from dull numbers to these patriotic ideas and you’ll have people cheering.”
I’m listening for the cheers or jeers.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to email@example.com.