I was leaving the Statehouse last week when I heard the distinctive voice of Roman Ruff: “You didn’t lecture the legislators this time as you’ve done in the past.”

“Nonsense,” I replied, “I held them responsible for Indiana’s future. The problems we have are clearly the result of their failure to raise the revenues needed for essential programs that serve the future.”

“It wasn’t one of your more familiar rants,” he said.

“It was all about economic development,” I disagreed, “offering future generations a more valued set of options and enhancing Indiana’s image as a good place to live beyond being a cheap place to run a business.”

“I thought for sure you’d bring up one of your thread-bare pleas for more connectivity among Indiana communities,” Roman said.

“Good point,” I agreed. “The presentation about the HardKnocks Hiking Trail…”

“That’s Knobstone,” Roman corrected me.

“Ah, yes, Knobstone,” I acknowledged. “Now, that’s an example of connectivity, a rugged hiking trail from Deam Lake (20 miles north of Louisville) connecting to the Tecumseh trail and on to Martinsville.”

“But we need more trails of different difficulties for connectivity, whether it be by foot, skateboard, wheelchair, mountain or ordinary street bike.” Roman asserted. “Too few Hoosiers know very much about other places in Indiana.”

Again, I agreed. “The rails-to-trails projects help. For example, the Cardinal Greenway, from Marion in Grant County, through Muncie and ending in Richmond is ….”

“But,” Roman interrupted my oration. “The conversion of abandoned rail lines to recreational trails is controversial. The Cardinal Greenway and other routes are contested by adjacent property owners who claim title to the land. They insist the rail rights-of-way revert to them, while nostalgic citizens of faith await the ultimate resurrection of rail passenger travel.”

“But think of the possibilities,” I insisted. “High School students riding bikes between Marion and Muncie for a few days to explore each other’s city. Similar exchanges between Terre Haute and Bloomington with an overnight in Bowling Green would be great.”

“Now you’re off track,” Roman said. “You can’t have a rail-to-trail route where there was no preceding rail line. It’s exactly that lack of rail connection in the 19th and 20th centuries that hampered the development of a stronger Indiana economy.”

“Possibly true,” I said. “Even in this internet era, geography still counts. Improving the ability of people and businesses to engage in exchange is vital to prosperity.

“That’s why Indiana has to work on systems to facilitate new technologies. How much consideration is our state government giving to autonomous vehicles and drones? Or will we just wait around until innovations elsewhere are proven to be successful?”

“That’s the Hoosier way,” Roman said. “It’s cheaper, less risky, nicely drowsy passivity. We made some mistakes with canals in the middle of the 1800s and we’re not going to get caught again in a position of leadership.”
Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed his podcast.

© 2020 Morton J. Marcus