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We’re seeing capitalism at its best – and its worst


It has been a busy summer for free-market capitalism in Central Iowa. Shocking sums of money have been casually discussed, traditions abandoned, vice put up for grabs. If we had elevated trains, it would feel just like Chicago.

Shopping. Have you heard about this new mall west of town? There must be a press release around here somewhere with the name . . . Anyway, it’s arriving just in time because the latest report from the U.S. Commerce Department says the American consumer is starting to slack off. Spending dropped by 0.7 percent in June, which is simply unacceptable. Sure, 0.7 percent might not sound like much, but when you multiply it by all of the credit cards in the nation, it becomes clear that we’ll all be living in caves by Christmas. So rush right out to . . . sheesh, where is that brochure. . . and buy a slab of cheesecake, a stuffed bear and some handcrafted, natural-fiber clothing. And some shoes. In the name of Alan Greenspan, don’t skimp on shoes.

Housing. Out in innocent little places like De Soto and Van Meter, where nobody was looking for trouble, builders are putting up houses priced as high as $800,000. Yeah, that should work out. Unless the old residents get jealous or the new ones start making demands. But what are the chances of that? Also, somebody mentioned the possibility of multistory condo buildings out there. Perfect. There’s just no finer way to savor small-town life than staring out at the grain elevator from a high private balcony.

Pharmaceutical entrepreneurship. You have to admire the strategy of a drug runner who drives a 2004 Dodge Caravan, like the guy who was arrested in Dallas County last week. But if this forces law enforcement officials to change their profiling techniques and stop every minivan driver from now on, the narco-terrorists will have won. By the way, what happens to this guy when he finally reports back to work after losing $8 million worth of cocaine? Can he just pay a fine, or will he also lose his parking space?

Naming rights. Apparently the owner of the Iowa Cubs is strapped for cash, the poor guy, or he wouldn’t have discarded all those decades of tradition and turned Sec Taylor Stadium into Principal Park. Maybe now he can lower concession prices. Or, if money is still an issue, maybe he can figure out a way to place corporate logos on individual kernels of popcorn.

Gambling. Technically, this isn’t a free-market issue. But it’s the very best kind of capitalism – the kind that makes a lot of money. It’s also the most entertaining story of the summer because it involves everyone’s favorite form of analysis, conspiracy theories. A good conspiracy theory is better than an afternoon of shopping at that new mall, with its overtones of deceit, money-lust and obsession. (The theory, that is. Not the mall.) With any luck, this will drag on for months. Accusations will be hurled, tantrums will be thrown and questionable payments will be made. And then they’ll go ahead and build a casino and hire somebody really interesting to run it. Some shady character who drives a minivan.

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