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Tragic Fire Sheds Light on Economic Lesson

Posted by on March 27, 2009

[This post was originally written for my employer’s blog, Show-Me Daily.]

In fairness, I would not write about this if I didn’t live just down the street and drive by it nearly every day, but I am sad to report that the Historic Pevely Dairy building suffered a devastating loss to fire on Sunday.

I have no historic context for the loss, having grown up in north county and being no connoisseur of dairy, but I feel the tragedy on some level. I’m sure that the building was, at one time, the livelihood of many, though it’s been unused recently. According to the article, it was shut down last November and the site was scheduled to be sold.

This brings me to my point. There is and always will be tragedy and unexpected loss in the world. We can never escape this. But people fight the hardest to overcome and return to “normal” when their livelihood is on the line. When property is the sole responsibility of one person — or, occasionally, when owned by a few people — with a vested interest in its proper functioning, they will go to great lengths to maintain and preserve it. One (perhaps unpalatable) logical extreme of this insight that a friend proposed to me is, “If environmentalists want to save endangered species, they should find a way to commercialize them.” They could be pets, or have some industrial application, whatever it takes to make it in the interest of firms or individuals not only to preserve them, but to proliferate them. No one worries that cows, dogs, or cats will disappear. Indeed, many are concerned about overpopulation of dogs and cats.

I am not saying that this building burned down because it was abandoned or nationalized, only that if it were an active concern, it would be rebuilt in short order. The sad scar of loss would be healed with the revitalizing touch of a new and modern factory, perhaps producing Pevely milk and butter more cheaply and benefiting customers and workers alike. At present, I don’t anticipate a speedy rebuild. More likely, the lot will languish awaiting a buyer interested in owning one more vacant lot, this one with some singed rubble included. The lesson rings in the background: If you want to save it, create a market for it.

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