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Column: Rosy fourth-quarter report dimming with perspective

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Now that Labor Day is past, the season of hunting for voters is fully open.

In these weeks before the Nov. 4 election, while a few candidates discuss serious and important matters, like low voter participation in elections, most seeking office will fluff their plumage over their supposed contributions to Indiana’s economic well-being.

The prime evidence the happy partisans will put forward is Indiana’s high ranking in the latest data release from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis: Indiana ranked eighth in the nation in percentage growth of the state’s real gross domestic product for the last quarter of 2013.

Remember, these are preliminary data for a new series of numbers the bureau just cranked out. They are subject to revision and updating.

Perhaps it would be better to widen our horizon and consider the full year of 2013. Then Indiana’s rate of progress in the output of goods and services falls to 19th among the 50 states.

This still is a respectable position, but without that single digit wow so appealing to the chest-thumpers of the Statehouse.

For a longer time, one too long to be relevant for those who live by the two-year election cycles of the Indiana General Assembly, Indiana’s economic performance is like a yo-yo or a roller coaster. Our ups and our downs are more spectacular than those of the nation as a whole.

When the nation was in recession (from the end of 2007 to mid-2009), Indiana’s GDP fell twice as fast as did that of the U.S. (minus 9.8 percent for the Hoosier state compared to minus 4.3 percent for the nation). In the recovery, (mid-2009 to the end of 2013), Indiana advanced by 15 percent, and the entire country advanced by 10 percent.

So how did we do over the entire business cycle (the recession plus the recovery)? Those results are not pleasing to our state political leadership. We won’t hear too much about our 3.7 percent rise compared with the nation’s overall 5.3 percent gain.

Likewise, we won’t hear that our state’s share of the nation’s economic output fell from 1.92 percent to 1.89 percent over the course of this latest business cycle. After all, we’ll be told, if anyone does bring that up, the difference is too small to bother about. Nonetheless, it does equal $87 million. As a good friend used to say, “That ain’t chopped liver.”

Yes, fellow Hoosiers, we may expect to hear about all the good news and very little of that same news in perspective as we move through the election season that lies before us.

All that good news should cheer up those 191,000 Hoosiers who are out looking for work.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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