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Is another depression coming?

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By The Staff

An older man who struck up a conversation on the other side of a gas pump a week ago worries another economic depression is on its way. He may be right.

Higher prices for what we put into our cars, trucks and stomachs have many people wondering if another financial collapse isn't around the corner.

Add to all of that an unstable stock market, climbing unemployment and worries about wars and political instability, and it's enough to bring the most optimistic among us to long for better days when things were a lot cheaper.

The man at the gas pump in Troy said he paid 15 cents for a gallon of gas when he first started driving in the late 1940s. He and a lot of others worry some people will lose everything. A lot of people are losing their homes. Just look at the number of foreclosures in the court news or, less obvious, the number of homeowners who are simply turning houses back over to the bank or mortgage company.

Nationwide and even world economic crises can still happen and people are still prone to panic. Remember what happened Sept. 11, 2001? People lined up out of fear gas supplies would run out. I remember seeing photos just a few months ago of people lined up outside a Great Britain bank. Customers were withdrawing their deposits after rumors circulated the bank was going under. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported the number of insolvent banks in the country is climbing.

Yes, another U.S. meltdown, a Great Depression II, isn't an impossibility and the U.S. may not always rank as the world's one economic superpower. Terribly alarming to some last week was the bid for St. Louis beer brewer Anheuser-Busch by Belgian beer giant InBev. I received spam e-mails urging me to sign online petitions opposing the possible sale as being "unAmerican."

I wasn't as alarmed as some, though the cheap U.S. dollar makes our companies a lot more of a bargain for those buyers with euros.

I complain each time I fill up at the gasoline pump, although I'm lucky the energy crisis hasn't affected me as much as it has others who have had to deal with the higher price of gasoline by cutting back on other expenses or even trimmed back summer getaways or canceled them altogether.

I don't have a family to provide for and getting mileage reimbursement for work-related trips helps take out some of the sting. But that doesn't mean I'm driving as much as I want with no care about what it costs at the pump.

My old 2001 Buick gets fairly good mileage and while I would be happy in a smaller car or even one of the new hybrids, I've not often been a new-car buyer. There's too much depreciation on new cars and I'd even rather spend money on overpriced gas than to pay interest on a car loan.

I, too, have been taking steps to save gasoline and while I can't walk to work like my feature writer (see column below), I can do my part.

I'm driving a little slower, with the realization that obeying the speed limit saves fuel.

I check my tires every month to ensure they are properly inflated. I've read where that saves money, too and it takes only a couple of minutes.

Though I have yet to cajole my brother to install it for me, I've purchased a new air filter for my car. Living on a gravel road means dust and I'm sure the small improvement in mileage will cover the few bucks the filter cost me.

I'm cutting down on needless driving. I still like to saunter around Sunday afternoons looking at crops or to drive into work on Saturday night or early Sunday to get a little work done when no one else is around, but I don't make the 11-mile journey from home as often as I did.

Small savings of a few miles here and there add up. Unless it's very hot, which it has been lately, I leave my car's air conditioning off and roll down the window. That saves a little gas, too.

Since the hillside repair project near Troy interrupts my commute to and from work, I sometimes turn my car off when I'm first in line at the red light. I have friends who say it takes more fuel to refire my engine than to idle there for a few minutes, but I'm not convinced.

Construction Zone

I'm watching with interest the early stages of hillside repairs now under way. More than $2 million in our tax dollars are going into the sliding hill, which has been cracking pavement for years.

A temporary patch was placed over the worst area when I was on vacation in May, a good thing because the cracks were getting very large and I feared it was only a matter of time before an accident occurred. I was guilty of driving left of center to avoid driving over the cracks but I always slowed to make sure there was no oncoming traffic. Not everyone is that careful.

I'll also be a happier driver when Gohmann Asphalt repaves Indiana 66 between Tell City and Troy, finally covering over the dug-out areas created this spring when culverts under the highway were replaced just outside of Tell City.

Crews asphalted over the strips but the areas have settled and it makes for a bumpy and annoying ride. I'm not the only one irked by them so I hope new asphalt is coming soon.