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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 1:00 am

Benefits of innovation not trickling down to Hoosier workers

Harry Targ

Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Hurricane Harvey touched down on the coast of Texas on Aug. 25.

On Aug. 31, Indiana leaders – government, the corporate sector and higher education – issued a statement announcing establishment of the Applied Research Institute: “ARI will facilitate and manage collaborative research teams to pursue major federal grants and contracts and perform corporate-sponsored research that will generate technology transfer and commercialization in military defense and other sectors of Indiana's economy.”

ARI will have access to research facilities and personnel valued at $1 billion: laboratories and personnel from corporations, the military and the two major public universities, Indiana and Purdue.

The board of directors of ARI include the governor, the presidents of Indiana and Purdue, the president of Defense Aerospace at Rolls-Royce and the technical director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. The project was launched in 2015, according to the article, with the help of a Lilly Endowment Grant of $16 million.The Lilly Endowment chairman said he was pleased ARI “...has assembled a board of directors of this caliber and distinction.”

The ARI announcement emphasized development of computer technology, products that would have commercial value and advances in military security. The news release listed initial projects including “trusted microelectronics technology and security; multi-spectral data fusion and security (cyber); high density power storage and management; and advanced material science.” ARI research will accelerate “technology commercialization that supports economic prosperity.”

In a related development, in a letter to the Purdue academic community, President Mitch Daniels celebrated the university's developing research collaboration with Microsoft, Eli Lilly, Rolls-Royce, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division and Infosys. He also praised Purdue's acquisition of for-profit online Kaplan University and the creation of the new so-called “Purdue New U.”

Indiana workers

The Indiana Institute of Working Families issued its Labor Day report on Sept. 1. It found that there were parallel declines in union membership and Hoosier workers' income in the 21st century. Indiana workers' real income peaked in 1999 and has been in decline ever since. The Institute cited Advisor Perspectives, a market advisory firm, which called Indiana a “21st Century Loser.”

Compared to the other 49 states, Indiana has experienced the ninth-largest drop in mean income. Lowered incomes and wages have been exacerbated by declining union membership, passage of a right-to-work law in 2012, and the end to the common construction wage in 2015. The report said “Indiana's median household income grew so little compared to other states that our income ranking dropped from 34th to 36th in the nation. Indiana now has the lowest median wages of any of our neighbors, including Kentucky. If there are benefits to undercutting Indiana's labor standards, they aren't showing up in the average Hoosier's paycheck, or even in employers' ability to find a skilled workforce.”

Who benefits

These disparate reports were distributed while Texas was experiencing one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history. Hurricane impacts were linked not only to climate change but also to unregulated growth in Houston. In addition, the announcement about ARI was made at a time that:

Gaps between rich and poor grow and smaller numbers of corporations and banks control more and more of the economy.

Major universities, such as Indiana and Purdue, have become extensions of big corporations and the military.

Racism and white supremacy have been fueled by opportunistic politicians and ignored by the rest. The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia are just one recent example.

Massive wealth and power have become ever more concentrated in economic and political elites.

And all of these changes in American society are going on below the radar screen while the media and mainstream politicians concentrate on the follies of politics in Washington. To borrow from Naomi Klein's idea of the shock doctrine, the Trump presidency is the shock, while new institutions like ARI, mostly invisible, are creating a new American reality that does not address the real needs for economic and social justice in Indiana and the nation at large.

In sum, Hoosiers might conclude that the beneficiaries of projects such as ARI, are big corporations, universities and the military – not Indiana workers.