“If You Ain’t First, You’re Last!”
It’s billed as The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but the Indianapolis 500 isn’t just a sporting event. At its core, the Indy 500 is a tradition steeped in American notions of meritocracy and competition. Behind the wheels of the cars will be domestic and international drivers, past winners and current challengers, veteran drivers and rookies making their debuts. If you’re one of the best drivers on the planet, there is probably a seat waiting for you in one of the 33 cars on the track this weekend.
And if you’re like me and not one of the best drivers in the world, well, there’s always a seat in the stadium or at home. After all, it is a spectator sport.
But what’s all this have to do with Missouri? A lot, actually. Indiana, home to the 500, is often viewed as a peer and competitor to Missouri, and in recent years, the Hoosier State has started pulling ahead of us in economic growth. At the end of World War II, Missouri’s population was a touch larger than Indiana’s; today Indiana is larger than Missouri by a half-million people, with a bigger economy to boot.
For years, Missouri has behaved more like a spectator than a racer in this economic competition. Missouri is falling behind, and as Institute analysts have written before, Missouri’s not just falling behind Indiana in the race for growth.
The good news is it seems like Missouri policymakers may finally be turning a corner. The 2021 legislative session was generally a very positive one that built on some of the good government and deregulatory progress made in recent years. In fact, the state started gaining some national accolades for the work of its policymakers, especially the work on licensing reforms. As someone who’s been at the Show-Me Institute for about a decade now, I can tell you that national accolades for Missouri lawmaking weren’t just rare before; they were virtually non-existent.
But will this positive trend continue? Time will tell. There is so much work left to be done for real school choice, tax credit reform, protecting individuals’ rights and reining in overreaching local government, and so many other issues that we’ve talked about again and again. While the 2021 session was good, it still could have been much better.
“If you ain’t first, you’re last!” Ricky Bobby declares after a race in the comedy Talladega Nights, and while the line’s tied up in Will Ferrell’s patented oafishness, the mentality isn’t exactly wrong. Missouri policymakers need to—and should continue to—think not in terms of what maintains the status quo in the state, but in terms of what can make the state the best.
The race for growth and reform has already started, and right now Missouri is stuck in the middle of the pack. Missouri policymakers, in this summer’s special sessions and beyond, should race to win against our fellow states. Racing to do anything short of winning for Missourians is losing.