Saturday, December 23, 2006

A little canine can-do spirit and the value of capitalism
Linda Seebach
Linda Seebachis an editorialwriterfor the Rocky Mountain News. She can be reached by telephone at (303)954-2519or by e-mailat

Too late for Christmas delivery perhaps, but if you were thinking about a special something for your canine companion, how about a stylish new place for him to stay while you’re not home?

I was snowed in Thursday, and thus happened to run into my next-door neighbors, Scot and Heather Korth, when they came back from taking their dogs out. (People were skiing on my unplowed street, they said. It was sensible of me to stay in.) So we got to talking, as neighbors do when they’re not going anywhere, and Scot happened to tell me about the crates he had designed and built for their two dogs to stay in while he and Heather are gone during the day. And he invited me in to have a look.

See, our condo units are nice, but they’re small. Having two standard-issue dog crates — the kind you see in airports — shoved into a corner or pushed up against a wall does not add to the effectiveness of the decor. So Scot made some that double as furniture.

He and Heather use one as an end table next to the sofa in the living room, and two as nightstands. They’re basically cubes, made of acrylic panels cut with a laser, with laser-cut air holes and one side that slides up and down or locks in place if you prefer so the dog is free to come and go.

You can see Owen, the pug, next to his daytime home at online.

I’m not much for dogs, though Owen and Sammy seem nice enough, but this is pretty nifty. You can order the acrylic in a number of different colors to fit your home’s color scheme and, if you like, you can even order the air holes in a design of your own choosing; say an elegant F for Fido. And if I hadn’t already known this was furniture for dogs, I would probably not have given it a second glance. It just looks like furniture.

Well, not like my furniture, which is mostly thirdhand attic from the house I grew up in, but it would fit in almost anywhere.

However, I wouldn’t have bothered to tell you this little homegrown story except that it is nifty in another very important way. Here are a couple of people who improvised a solution to a space problem they share with many urban dwellers who live in small spaces. They have a company. They have a Web page. They have access to sophisticated materials and the tools to work them. They can fill custom orders and ship them anywherein the lower 48 (though they’ll deliver and install in and around Denver). They take PayPal. They even offer accessories.

And it’s all no fuss, no bother. Like them, anybody with a plausible idea can start a company, and you don’t have to wait months and pay a fortune in bribes as is the case in many poor countries. And of course that is part of the reason they’re poor.

As some readers will know, I started a business in 1972 to print and sell parts catalogs and shop manuals for Studebakers and Packards (yes, we had permission from the company). You might think that is a rather specialized economic niche, and that’s true, but worldwide, there was no one else occupying it. We even did a respectableamount of export sales, in part to Australia because, I was told, you could leave cars to your heirs there free of inheritance tax. An immaculately restored classic Packard could easily be worth six figures, and besides, you got to drive around in it before it became part of your estate.

We incorporated the business, I don’t remember exactly when, but basically we filled out a one-page form and sent the Minnesota secretary of state a dollar. We hired teenagers after school to assemble books (we paid above the minimum wage) and in 1976 we hired our first full-time employee and moved the presses out of our basement and into cheap space in a rickety hotel in downtown Northfield.

We sold the business to one of our employees in 1986, because we were going to China for a year. He later went on to other things as well, but somebody took over the printing and if you want the books, you can still buy them online. That means 30 years of full-time employment for somebody and a good deal of part-time work as well. Not a lot? No, but there are millions of specialized businesses, and taken together they are a significant part of the economy.

No central planner would ever have planned my business, or Scot and Heather’s designer dog crates, so they just wouldn’t have happened. That’s why, I believe, central planning has never worked and never will.

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