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SPOTLIGHT
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Grasping at economic evolution

Published on -7/31/2013, 9:43 AM

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My daddy used to say, "Money makes the mare go." He was correct, as daddies usually are.

In this case, being a member of the Dust Bowl generation, my daddy meant that money makes the world function a lot better -- just as the money spent on terraces, grassed waterways, and so forth made the Dust Bowl go away.

From my viewpoint, it would be clearer to say "economics control everything." We can rant and rave and finagle until hell freezes over but, in the long run, nothing succeeds without financial clout.

Just look at what happened to Kodak. This financial juggernaut ruled the photographic world a decade ago. You could find your favorite Verichrome or other flavor of color film at every grocery store, drug store and tourist trap in the nation.

Then what happened? Digital pictures happened. Film was abandoned. Today, Kodak is virtually broke -- along with every one-hour-photo shop that developed and printed their film.

The fickle American consumers found digital cameras and ink-jet printers would fill their picture needs quite economically, thank you. Now the color-happy public even buys telephones with digital cameras built in.

We shouldn't be surprised, because this has happened before. Several times.

The village smithy was a favorite stop on the horse-and-buggy roads a century or so ago. He nailed shoes on the horses that the livery stables rented to travelers. Then the automobile happened and the blacksmith shop eventually lost most of the horse trade and the piles of manure and the livery stable faded into gasoline and oil stops.

Talk about destructive! Cars and trucks ruined the railroad business too.

The automobile liberated small-town folks from passenger trains and allowed people to drive directly to their destinations -- if the roads weren't too muddy. But a fateful decision was made while building our highways. Trucks were allowed to drive on the recently paved highways.

The cars knocked the mighty railroads and their famous trains right out of the passenger business. Then big trucks roared onto those highways -- grew and grew -- and took over the freight business, much to the chagrin of railway owners. So, just like Kodak, the Union Pacific and other monopolies hauled less freight and showed a slimmer profit.

These days, some newspaper publishers are afraid the Internet will steal their advertisers and run them out of business. On the book publishing front, the owner of a successful bindery is worried for his 80 or so employees, wondering how digital books that are read on Kindles and various other hand-held contraptions will affect book publishing.

It could be argued the Internet is killing the U.S. Postal Service too. Almost everyone tweets and talks to one another on Facebook and email, seldom buying a stamp. This has to be a tremendous loss. And lately we see those ubiquitous UPS trucks stop at nearly every address.

In the case of the post office, it is further hampered by Congress' stipulation it must show a profit.

In the face of government waste in most other departments, this would be humorous if it weren't so tragic.

So it will be interesting to see whether our senators and representatives vote to keep post offices open, especially in small towns. A strong argument can be made for continuing this traditional mail service that binds American people and businesses together.

Much stumbling and many false starts accompanied the economic losses that we've discussed above. Certainly, it deserves much deep thought.

One Smith Center businessman summed up the attitude of his progressive grandfather, who as a state senator many years ago had voted for good roads to build up Bellaire.

"Grandpa forgot one thing," my friend told me. "He forgot that those highways leading into Bellaire were two-way streets."

So the shoppers drove out and left Bellaire a ghost town.

Darrel Miller lives near Downs in rural Osborne County and is a retired weekly newspaper editor.

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