Notre Dame economist sees glimpses of Indiana's future in state today

Notre Dame economist Sam Miller speaks Tuesday in Indianapolis about the forces set to shape the future of the Hoosier State.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — While there's no way to know for sure what Indiana's future holds, Notre Dame economist Sam Miller believes the technology and other forces that will shape Hoosier life in 10 years already are swirling about the state.

Speaking on Tuesday at the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, the Mendoza College of Business professor declined to make specific predictions. Instead, he urged corporate leaders to rely on their peripheral vision to get a sense of what is coming.

"The earliest glimpse is already here, these pockets of the future that exist in the present," Miller said. "There are signals that we can see now that can inform us of where we're going."

For example, Miller pointed out that the technology behind autonomous vehicles works without question as Google's Waymo cars have racked up more than 3 million road miles since 2010.

But he said how and when self-driving cars and trucks ultimately are deployed in the marketplace will impact everything from business distribution costs to vehicle component manufacturing, from state infrastructure spending to property taxes for school transportation.

"How can we anticipate that and put ourselves in a position to create resilience, so that we don't over-commit to one single outcome?" Miller asked.

He said forces of change likewise are apt to transform employment, education, health care, public safety, infrastructure and society in general — each of which raises substantial public policy questions that political and business leaders should plan to confront.

Such as, what happens if machines take over most of the jobs? How will humans get money to purchase the products that the machines are making? Is the time right for a universal basic income?

Or, perhaps technology spurs a nationwide start-up culture that sees big corporations and other highly structured institutions fade away and people instead embrace distributed models, including rooftop solar power and expansive school choice.

"The technology is not existing in a vacuum. Technology exists in a space where regulation may slow it down or slow adoption down," Miller said. "(I'd) encourage you to challenge deeply the assumptions underlying the decisions."

Jason Dudich, state budget director for Gov. Eric Holcomb, said Indiana constantly monitors how long-term changes in business and culture will affect the state's economy and budget. 

That's why the Republican governor favors policies that ensure stable revenue and predictable spending with sufficient reserves to meet any economic challenge, Dudich said.

At the same time, state Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, the top Democrat on the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said often it's difficult for his legislative colleagues to plan a decade ahead when keeping their jobs depends on winning elections in just two or four years.

He said that sometimes impedes quick action in times of rapid change. It also may create the impression that Indiana doesn't welcome, or even fears, change — which couldn't be more wrong.

"We're not slow; we're just kind of thorough," Porter said. "And sometimes it pays off. Other times we're playing catch-up."

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.