The other morning, I read two completely different columns, on different subjects, that came together in a surreal sort of way.
The first was from The Atlantic, titled “The Anti-Vaccine Right Literally Brought Human Sacrifice to America,” and it began with a collection of quotes comparing Republicans’ reality-denial and elevation of economic concerns over public safety to human sacrifice.
The immediate panicky focus on resuming business as usual in order to keep the stock market from crashing was the equivalent of “those who offered human sacrifices to Moloch,” according to the writer Kitanya Harrison. That first summer, as Republicans settled into their anti-testing, anti-lockdown, anti-mask, nothing-to-worry-about orthodoxy, Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, said it was “like a policy of mass human sacrifice.” The anthropology professor Shan-Estelle Brown and the researcher Zoe Pearson wrote that people who continued to do their jobs outside their homes were essentially victims of “involuntary human sacrifice, made to look voluntary.”
(Parenthetically, I will note that every time some pundit tells us that Americans are “losing faith in Biden’s handling of the pandemic,” I want to scream that the f**ing anti-vaxxers who are sacrificing the lives of their own voters are to blame for derailing his efforts. But I digress.)
The author of the article noted that the original concern about economic damage was “at least fundamentally rational, a weighing of social costs against social benefits.” But that original concern should have abated.
Today, however, the economy is no longer in jeopardy; unemployment rates and salaries have returned to pre-pandemic levels; GDP per person is higher than it was at the end of 2019; personal savings are growing, and businesses are starting up faster than ever; corporate profits and stock prices are at record highs.
The recitation of current economic realities was meant to emphasize the fact that the “ongoing propaganda campaign against and organized political resistance to vaccination… has been killing many, many Americans for no reasonable, ethically justifiable social purpose.”
Almost immediately after reading that article, a reader sent me a column by Ball State economist Michael Hicks. It had nothing to do the political insanity surrounding COVID–it was instead an explanation of why Indiana’s economic future is grim. Compare the Indiana data to the relatively rosy national picture relayed by The Atlantic.
Hicks began by noting that Indiana’s relatively good recovery from the effects of the pandemic, particularly in manufacturing and logistics, was largely due to the fiscal policy interventions of the Trump and Biden administrations, and that the state’s current, flush fiscal condition is “wholly a consequence of COVID stimulus.”
Otherwise, not so hot.
In 2000, Indiana ranked 24th in average wages nationwide, with the typical worker earning almost 88 percent of the national average. By 2019, we’d dropped to 35th in average wages per job, or just over 85 percent of the national average. In just the decade of the longest economic expansion in American history, Indiana’s per capita income relative to the rest of the nation saw its biggest 10-year decline in history. This sort of rapid declines in job quality and earnings are catastrophic for Indiana’s long-term prosperity, and addressing the decline is the number one policy issue facing the state.
To the extent that Indiana’s economy has grown, it is due to the performance of Indianapolis–the city our legislators love to shortchange.
Just to clarify this point, from 2000 to 2019, Indiana created 154,000 new jobs, but 195,000 of these went to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Area. No, that is not a math error. The non-Indianapolis portions of the state had 40,000 fewer jobs in 2019 than they did at the turn of the century, while Indianapolis grew much faster than the state as a whole. Only the highly educated, high-tax parts of Indiana are growing.
And how about that GOP fever dream that cutting taxes will fix anything and everything that ails you? (Probably including thinning hair and genital warts…)
Our overall business taxes, as reported to the Federal Department of Commerce ranked 8th lowest in 2000, dropping to 6th lowest by 2019. However, our taxes on manufacturing dropped from 25th to 4th lowest over the same period, while we shed 120,000 factory jobs.
No one can construct an honest argument that this has bettered the Indiana economy. This is mostly because cutting taxes on manufacturing necessarily means spending less on key public services, while shifting the tax burden to households and other businesses.
Indiana’s Republican super-majority (courtesy of gerrymandering) is pursuing both kinds of death addressed by these articles: anti-vaccine policies that will kill real people, and demonstrably stupid economic policies that will depress economic growth while making Indiana a less attractive place to live and work.
All while waging war on education and the urban areas that are critical to the state’s economic well-being.
Talk about sacrificing human and economic health to ideology!