John Ketzenberger’s Required Read

John Ketzenberger’s “Business Insider” columns should be required reading for anyone who cares about economic policy–and that should be all of us.

Ketzenberger, for those who don’t know, directs Indiana’s Fiscal Policy Institute, and is thus privy to a wealth of information about Indiana’s economic performance. He is also able to “connect the dots” between various economic indicators in clear English, as he did in his column in last Sunday’s Indianapolis Star. (For example: Job creation is only part of the picture; because Indiana workers make less than workers in other Midwest states, they have less buying power–one reason Indiana’s economy remains sluggish. We need to recognize that the number of jobs may be high while per capita income remains low.)

As illuminating as his economic analysis consistently is, however, what really struck me about last Sunday’s column was its conclusion. Ketzenberger drew on his years of observing the operation of Indiana policies on the prospects of Hoosier citizens and offered five recommendations:

  • Understand it’s not a political thing, it’s a practical thing. And that thing is compromise. Nobody has the market cornered on good ideas, so it’d be nice to see business leverage partnerships and politicians apply a little common sense. Compromise, contrary to popular belief, is not a sign of weakness, but it takes a lot of fortitude and smarts to apply it.
  • Mitch Daniels was right—never mix social issues with public policy making. It’s hard to debate the state’s budgetary priorities when all of the attention is on efforts to discriminate against a class of people in the name of protecting religious liberty already enshrined in the constitution.
  • When we’re ready to get serious about the issues, I’d suggest we consider them in this order: long-term infrastructure funding, comprehensive long-term education policy, ensuring the public safety net is wide as possible.
  • Let’s agree to destigmatize taxes. This is not a call for a tax hike, a cut or dramatic shifts. It’s just a plea to recognize that taxes are necessary to pay for domestic tranquility—an organized community, public safety and basic services. Treat all taxpayers fairly, use the money wisely and balance the need for fiscal responsibility with the other two points and we can get on with substantive policy debates.
  • Finally, we must remind our elected officials they are leaders obliged to serve all of the citizens, not just those who paid the freight or voted for them. Votes are a far greater currency than all the big-money interests, but only if people choose to participate. The next time you see a negative campaign ad, remember its purpose is to drive independent people out of the voting booth. Maintain your independence and vote.

Yes, yes and yes to all of these!


  1. Yes; especially to his 5th recommendation, except – I believe that needs to be number 1 on the list if we hope to accomplish anything in this city and state.

  2. Please note this guy is HARDLY a loosie leftie. His recommendations are SO conservative I sometimes want to scream, so if THIS guy is saying it, your economic hair is on fire. Seriously. For all the ‘conservative’ voters out there–look at what you are voting for: a plantation economy. In case you haven’t notice, the South won. The more the land owner has the less is left for you. Now that they can pay wages which put you below the poverty level it is economic slavery. And the Indiana Dems are just as bad. Is there daylight between Gregg and Pence? A pox on both your houses. It is the haves continuing their stranglehold over the people working three jobs just to pay rent, utilities and transportation. Nothing left over for savings, for investing, for going to a restaurant, buying local or anything else. And due to the cooperation between the two parties, at least in Indiana, any real option has left the building. Get ready for more of the same. My advice to my talented daughter when she gets out of school? Leave! She won’t be working on Brant Hershman’s plantation.

  3. Democracy is the belief that government is the will of the people made manifest through elected representatives. It is our collective voice empowered by law. It represents us to the rest of the world and to each other and to all other of our institutions. We all have an equal say about the details within our power.

    It is within our power to determine what kind of government best wields our power; what it provides, how it protects, who it serves.

    However with great power comes great responsibility and great complexity especially in today’s world. It is our government not a mere institution separate and remote from us.

    An ultra simplified metaphor of today’s problem would be a family business successfully run by say the matriarch now passed on to the next generation. A contentious group with varying levels of understanding of the business.

    You as the one with the most experience would naturally try to fix the problem by trying to teach the others about the business; the products and services, the customers, the employees, the means of production, the finances, the suppliers, the quality assurance processes, the information flow, the waste stream, etc.

    But what if as you teach Uncle Archie is spreading bad information at the same rate! He doesn’t know or care that he doesn’t know or care what he’s talking about.

    People like Sheila and John Ketzenberger are trying to teach America about our business, the business of governance, but must first overcome the jabbering of Uncle Archie who just doesn’t comprehend or accept what he doesn’t know.

    Like I said a grossly simplified metaphor but our problem today in a nutshell.

    What should our priorities be? Who should execute them once we have decided upon them? How should our will be made manifest to the rest of the world? What alternatives exists? What’s coming at us as the future unfolds?

    How do we shut up Uncle Archie so we can learn?

  4. In a newspaper that regularly features nasty cartoons by Gary Varvel, John Ketzenberger is a balancing feature. Now, if only they would bring back Jolene.

  5. I think through the years, I may have chuckled at 1 or 2 of Varvel’s “cartoons”. A Star cartoonist before Varvel is in prison for beating his wife to death with a barbell to spare her the pain of cancer. What happened to funny cartoonists…or funny cartoons. The “funny pages” are no longer funny; we must read and try to comprehend Republican political news to be entertained. Trump has agreed to sign that Republican Loyalty Oath – ain’t nothin’ new about that from the GOP. I had to sign one in 1972 to get my first job with the City of Indianapolis; told when and where to work for the Nixon campaign and stood in line every payday to “donate” 2% of my paycheck. Does Trump’s Loyalty Oath contain that 2% donation clause? That would certainly aid the Republican presidential campaign fund.

    “Mitch Daniels was right—never mix social issues with public policy making.”

    I copied and pasted the statement above to ask a question, and refresh my failing memory, but didn’t Daniels mix his social issues with policy making as aids to becoming President of Purdue University. A financial coup all the way around for someone else’s “man Mitch”.

  6. Mitch Daniels was right—never mix social issues with public policy making. Sorry, that boat sailed, with Bosma and other Republicans wanting to purify Indiana of sin as they see it.

    Girl cousin I agree with you 100% on Pence and Gregg. We have Republicrat Party here in Indiana, maybe a few exceptions, their master is Crony-Capitalism. For the Crony-Capitalists in our Mayoral Election Hogsett or Brewer is heads I win, tails you lose.

  7. John’s a smart guy. He should know better than that. RFRAs are being passed because the Court gutted the protections of the free exercise clause in Employment Division v. Smith in 1990. We have a RFRA at the national level and in 30 states. Not once has it been used to “discriminate against a class of people.”

  8. “Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), is a United States Supreme Court case that determined that the state could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state prohibition on the use of peyote, even though the use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. Although states have the power to accommodate otherwise illegal acts done in pursuit of religious beliefs, they are not required to do so.”

    Of course the real question is could Indiana’s version of RFRA be used, despite the Federal version be used to “discriminate against a class of people”?

  9. As Paul should know–and admit–Indiana’s RFRA differed from the original, national version. That RFRA prevented GOVERNMENT from burdening religious exercise; Indiana’s allowed private actors to defend discriminatory actions on the basis of religious belief.

  10. Sheila – thanks for reminding everyone once again that the federal RFRA differs from Indiana’s. It drove me crazy for Indiana lawmakers to act as if they were the same.

  11. And isn’t Indiana’s RFRA only applicable in specific areas of the state – which is why Ballard jumped on the bandwagon during the fracas to save Indianapolis’ tourism?

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