Hundreds of millions of years ago, a shallow sea covered the land on which we now live, and providence had it that Monroe County would be the final resting place of trillions upon trillions of that sea's little creatures. Here, in a graveyard that reaches from Lafayette to Salem (but mostly Monroe) is where the ancient came to die.
And so was laid the bedrock for one of the world's most famous extractive industries, Indiana's dimensional limestone industry. Limestone is calcium, every block nothing more than an accumulation of skeletons packed hard together.
And, although limestone occurs the world over, nowhere else in the world were those skeletons so uniformly, so homogeneously, and with such scarcity of contamination, deposited.
Monroe County is to limestone as Saudi Arabia is to oil. If Ooids (the name and form those little skeletons took) were a master race, this would be their homeland. There's nothing multicultural about our limestone, there's no messy diversity in its composition.
It's the pure, buff, stuff.
Circuses and bread, it's useful stuff. Limestone is used in everything from making buildings to growing food. It has a market value, and if someone wants to buy Ooid skeletons, well it just makes sense to dig up the Ooid graveyard and sell them.
Which we do. For nearly two centuries we've been extracting the wealth from under our feet and selling to the highest bidder. This worked well for a long time, and especially when the people doing the extraction were members of the community. Although wealth in the form of limestone left the community, it was replaced by wealth in another form, cash, coming back.
There was a balance between the wealth leaving the community and the wealth entering it.
This has begun to change, however. No longer do the owners of many of the limestone companies live here. Neither do the quarry workers or the truck drivers. Now, when the limestone leaves Monroe, it's not replaced by profits and salaries coming back in.
Our extractive industry is now less about trade and more about liquidation. It's less about a balance of payments, money coming in at least equal to that going out, and more about money just going out.
More about money, and income, leaking out.
It's easy to see how income leakage can occur with what business economists call "extractive industries." It's easy to see how a community rich in a natural resource, like Nigeria is with oil and Monroe is with limestone, can nevertheless become or remain impoverished if the value of that natural resource is allowed to leak out.
If the value of that resource doesn't accrue to the community in which the resource is located.
While neither business economists, nor most politicians, would agree, I don't think the term "extractive industries" should be limited just to those industries involved in the physical extraction of a non-renewable resource.
I think we should consider any industry that exists to pump wealth out of a community, and into the pockets of those who don't live in the community, as an extractive one.
By that definition, most of the service and retail industry located along our highways can be viewed as extractive, can be seen to operate as economic sump pumps, pumping wealth out of our economy.
When a Bedford resident working at the "Liberty Station" (there's no train station there, I checked) Menards sells you a can of paint made in China, guess where the profit comes from and where it goes? It comes from the community, you, and it goes outside the community. It leaks out.
When a Spencer resident working at the College Mall Applebees sells you a salad made in California, guess where the profit comes from and where it goes? It comes from the community, you, and it goes outside the community. It leaks out.
Wealth concentrates when it leaves the communities where it's generated. From a million pockets and into a handful. Twenty years ago, 1 percent of the population got $8 of every hundred made. Today that same 1 percent gets $16, while the other 99 percent of us get to divvy up the remaining $84.
Let me put it another way: when community payday comes, one guy who flies in from Arkansas gets $16 bucks, and 99 homeboys get 85 cents, each.
In the 1980s, IU CFO John Hackett built an altar to Reaganomics and fast-buck-flipped the Memorial Union to fast-food nation. Out with the locally-made Health-Nut sandwich, and the people who made it, and in with frozen burgers, trucked from Nebraskan factories.
Soon the IU Trustees, led by one of the governor's millionaire corporate buddies, will move to privatize even more of the public's university. They'll take more business from a local institution and hand it to distant private corporations. They'll create more income leakage.
Because it is not rational to believe that those corporations will pay higher wages and benefits than those paid now. It is not rational to believe that the corporations will charge the public less than the public currently charges itself.
It is not rational to believe those corporations will forego profit, and it is not rational to believe that the shareholders of those corporations will live within Monroe County.
But it is rational to believe that, as a result of the trustee's actions, more of our income will leave our community. Making others richer, and us poorer.
Gregory Travis can be reached at .