Todd Rokita: Expanding liberty, empowering families key to economy

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Editor’s note: This op-ed originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal. 

As Hoosiers, we all want to make Indiana stronger and more economically prosperous. So we owe gratitude to David Ricks, the CEO of Eli Lilly and Co., for stirring important conversations with an April 20 speech to The Economic Club of Indiana.

Ricks acknowledged Indiana’s strengths in “traditional” areas like infrastructure and cost of doing business. But he expressed concern that we lag other states in “new things” such as education, inclusion, public health and a green agenda.

Whether one agrees with every point, Ricks is a capable business leader whose perspectives deserve attention. I believe he is on “Team Indiana,” and we all recognize what he and Lilly bring to—and do for—the team.

I also believe that the key to moving Indiana forward is promoting greater liberty.

Free enterprise, in fact, is what spurs innovation and improvements across all sectors—business, education, health care and so on. We must overcome known impediments to growth, such as entrenched bureaucracies and overregulation—and also outright socialist impulses.

As we pursue wise policies, we should consider diverse ideas. Some business leaders have used Ricks’ speech, though, to support a worn-out criticism of Indiana that misses the mark—that Indiana remains a cultural and political backwater that must outgrow its conservative worldview in order to meet 21st century challenges.

Supposedly, we must adopt more progressive (i.e., leftist/socialist) beliefs and lose our fixation on so-called “divisive social issues.”

As IBJ reported, some business leaders say the Legislature should spend more time promoting wind and solar farms, higher cigarette taxes and a hate-crimes law that applies to transgender people—and less time debating “making abortion illegal, the way diversity issues are taught in school, whether transgender girls should compete in sports, and whether Hoosiers should obtain a permit to carry a handgun.”

You get the drift. We Hoosiers are just too darn conservative.

But everyone should understand (despite not often being taught it in school these days) that America’s founding principles—such as a devotion to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—remain essential for a flourishing society if it is to remain free. And that includes such a society’s economy.

And so we fight to protect the lives of the unborn, for the Second Amendment and for religious freedom—not just for the “social” value, but for the economic value they have in undergirding a free republic.

Hoosiers understand that schools should teach science, technology, engineering, math, etc., rather than training kids to be left-wing activists. Teaching kids to think critically so they can discover truth is essential in a free republic. I would like to see chamber-of-commerce types support remediation and school choice as aggressively as they opposed Indiana’s recent legislative efforts to curtail indoctrination.

A commitment to remediation is a common-sense strategy for increasing job-readiness and educational outcomes. It embraces the importance of reteaching content that students have failed to master rather than passing them into higher levels for which they are not prepared. This is especially important following the disruption of COVID-19.

On school choice, surely we can achieve consensus that parents rather than ZIP codes should determine where kids go to school. And that competition, in whatever sector, is a good thing for the customer—in this case, our children.

Hoosiers understand that strong families are the foundational building blocks of any free society.

All these convictions amount to far more than forays into “divisive social issues.” Rather, they are pillars of economic stability, wealth creation and self-government itself. So maybe some are right to point us toward more consideration of solar power, wind farms and cigarette taxes. We should all be prepared to conduct civil discourse.

But let’s also remember President John F. Kennedy’s admonition: “The best road to progress is freedom’s road.”•


Todd Rokita is Indiana’s attorney general.

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