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Chadwick: Main St. vs the Net in this Recession (and Peggy Noonan)

This past Saturday, walking down “Main Street” in my town, I popped into the local bookstore (okay it was only Borders, rather than Diane’s, the best bookstore in the country) hoping to support the local economy just a little bit. I had a book in mind – it was Peggy Noonan’s newest publication, entitled, “Patriotic Grace”. I was in no particular hurry to own the book, as it was to be a present for my mother when she turns 80 in three weeks. I paid $21.15 and walked out.

But just as I was leaving the store, it dawned on me that since my purchase was not one of those frantic, at-the-last-moment hostess presents or even worse a long overdue birthday present, I could have purchased the book online at Amazon.com and possibly saved some money. So when I reached home, I went online and did a little analysis. Sure enough, I could have saved a full $3.15 (after shipping costs!) by buying the book on the Internet. While $3.15 might not be so much, it was 17% of the cost of the book and in this rotten economy that amounts to a mighty big saving.

This is not a trivial fact, and as people are increasingly worried about job security, their dwindling IRAs and the fact that their house is worth less today than just six months ago, they will undoubtedly count their pennies and find ways of being more frugal. The result may indeed be a shift from Main Street-buying to Internet-buying. With the Christmas selling season at hand, this might actually be a boon for Amazon. Of course, the corollary is that it could be an economic misfortune for the economy of Main Street America.

But I then started thinking about other economic ramifications of an internet transaction versus a Main Street transaction. Was there an environmental cost associated with the shipping of a single book? I don’t know but I do care. Even more importantly, would Peggy Noonan get the same royalty regardless of the venue for the sale of her book? That really matters. Never would I willingly deprive her of a single penny of her royalty income. She is simply too fabulous and brilliant and deserves more than a standard royalty. The little research I did indicated to me that she gets the same royalty and that’s good.

On Sunday morning I woke up really early – I mean REALLY early because of the end of daylight saving – and I took a little look through Peggy’s book (the birthday present) and became so absorbed in it that I read the entire thing. It is small and quite short but I read it slowly and it took only a couple of hours. And then I realized that now I would be giving my mother a USED present for her 80th birthday. How chintzy of me. But I was very careful in turning the pages, so she will never know unless I spill the beans and tell her. And any way her real birthday present is our trip together to the Holy Land.

Having read Peggy’s book, all I can say is that everyone should read it – Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Socialists and even avowed non-voters. Her book is a grace indeed and it can convert everyone.

Dear Senator Obama and Senator McCain, by the end of tomorrow one of you will be the President-elect. I urge you to consider appointing Peggy Noonan (1) Secretary of State or (2) Secretary of Homeland Security (but first please rename it) or at the very least (3) your adviser and speechwriter and promise not to edit what she writes.

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Patricia W. Chadwick has had more than 35 years of investment experience. She is the founder and president of Ravengate Partners LLC, a consulting firm that provides advice on financial markets and global economics.