Three questions for Gov. Holcomb’s ‘Next Level’

“This agenda remains focused on what will make us stronger, with practical and people-centered solutions. I look forward to working with Hoosiers, lawmakers and other stakeholders as we team up to achieve these priorities.” — Gov. Eric Holcomb explaining the strategy behind his “Next Level” economic-development program for 2019

Eric Holcomb is a nice man, maybe a good man, and, for all anyone can tell given the quality of statehouse reporting, a competent public official. So what is it about him that bothers some of us? Let me attempt an answer.

He is a throwback to the days when Republicans thought it enough to run government “like a business” and felt secure repeating the mantra that what is good for business is good for the country — no matter how “business” comes to be defined.

Holcomb has never run a business, you see. He has not experienced the debilitating effect of taxes, regulations, crony relationships and monopolistic policies that punish anything authentically entrepreneurial. He does seem to sympathize, though, and he appears honest as far as career politicians go. And, yes, he takes the obligatory summer trips overseas “in search of Hoosier jobs.”

The problem is his leadership model. It is an anachronism going back to a time before the works of Friedrich Hayek or Ludwig von Mises were widely read, a time when a statehouse could be treated as a mere nuisance, a time when cashiers added state tax with the quip, “and a penny for the governor.”

Hah to that.

It is clear now that any government of whichever party, state or federal, perpetually tries to grow into Gargantua — a menace to all in its shadow, ceasing to protect the individual in order to concentrate on stealing, conquering and manipulating. Running it like a business only makes sense if you think the goal of a business is to ignore customers, under fund service and cheapen the product.

To discourage all that is why the Republican base, made up of the most hapless of subjects, continues to vote Republican.

But where there is endurance and character, there is always hope. Dr. Eric Schansberg, an economist at Indiana University Southeast, has come up with a three-part reality test that can be applied to any government plan:

Is the proposal consistent with the relevant constitution? If a proposal violates the constitution, then it is illegitimate and undermines the rule of law. If a constitution is illegitimate in some way, change the constitution, don’t violate it.

Is the proposal an ethical use of force on people? When is it OK to have government force someone to do something or prevent them from doing it? Is it moral for government to take your money and give it to poor people? How about wealthy farmers or businesses?

Is the proposal practical, will it actually work? Even if it’s constitutional and ethical, if it won’t work then don’t do it.

Holcomb, bless him, applies an altogether different kind of test: Will a given policy or position lead to the election of more reasonable Republicans, the kind working in the interest of some sort of official cabal that only a trusted circle of the knowledgeable can prescribe?

For contrast, here is the playwright David Mamet on how our government, properly understood, should work:

“The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve [destroy] the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long. Rather brilliant.”

Holcomb is modest, not brilliant — a valued member of any committee. His reelection campaign will indulge only in the routine vanity that this administration, in self-judged perfection, is doing the “business” of its happy “employers,” the people of Indiana.

But to quote Mamet again, the reality is that “any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bull***** and go straight to firearms.”

Government, once more, is anything but a business. Rather, it is what we have to move out of the way to do business. Confusing this core mission is the ultimate mistake for a Republican governor, a mistake sure to weaken Indiana’s competitive economic position.

For we can elect Democrats to do that; they just take a different path to ruin.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review. Send comments to awoods@