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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

March 3, 2010 at 10:15 AM

The postman always rings twice…nevermind

Top of the News: In David Brin’s 1985 science fiction novel, The Postman, a drifter amid the destruction of nuclear war finds a letter carrier’s uniform. As he wanders the small communities left in the Northwest, he finds that he is a symbol of hope to people that a United States still exists. And what was just a piece of clothing becomes much more, both for the drifter and the people he helps (and the book was much better than the Kevin Costner film).

So I’m probably becoming an old codger in finding it sad that the Postal Service wants to end Saturday mail delivery and close post offices. Yes, email means people are sending fewer letters, and there’s a dreaded $7 billion deficit (a few days of operations in our foreign wars or the corporate welfare for the big banks).

But it was telling in the book that the symbol of unity, of something more than desperation and “devil take the hindmost,” was not a military uniform or a banker’s suit. It was the letter-carrier’s jacket. Through the history of the republic, the Post Office was one of the biggest uniters and representations of “we” vs. just “me.” And now, like the art of the letter, it must fade away. Everything must be “run like a business” now, and the Postal Service lacks the lobbyists of Wall Street and the big polluters, who can conceal their real costs to society.

Oh, yes…”going postal,” that sign of dysfunctional government. It was far outweighed by private-sector workplace shootings, which continue apace even as the Postal Service has become more safe. Somehow my Facebook page won’t replace the friendly and competent carrier I see every day, Rhonda Jeffreys. For now, she knits together Belltown and it’s a treasure.

The Midweek Briefing: As to the January employment report showing that Washington state added more than 12,000 net new jobs, the first gain since 2008…we’ll see. Washington has been hurt less than other states by the Great Recession. Still, like every state, we face a problem with underemployment and discouraged workers, and it will take some time even to recover the lost ground. By April, we may see a trend.

— Is Amazon’s Kindle a symbol of American decline? That’s the question posed by Harvard professor Willy Shih in a fascinating paper. Looking at the e-book reader, Shih found that most of the value-added came from overseas, a contrast with the iPod.

“Of the total cost of $185, then, perhaps $40 to $50 [of Kindle’s manufacturing costs] is captured in the U.S.,” he writes. My friend Mark Muro, writing in The New Republic, opines: “In this way, if the iPod embodies a largely reassuring story of American creativity, severed from the details of production, the Kindle should prompt real concern. Because America couldn’t manufacture the Kindle, the locus of future related innovation has potentially shifted abroad.”

— Some common-sense prescriptions to “heal American capitalism” are offered in the Harvard Business Review by Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. They focus on changing incentives to encourage the building of companies, rather than their cannibalization in the capital markets.

— To end where we started, the government released state and regional unemployment information for 2009. One interesting tidbit is that Washington has a much stronger employment to population ratio than the nation.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Greeks take a haircut

But it’s no myth, the story

Of the Goldman fleece

Comments | More in, Midweek Economic Briefing


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