Stories from the Fall of the Empire

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At first Liautaud considered a hot dog stand, but the equipment was too expensive, so he opted for a sub shop set up in a converted garage. To increase his customer base, Liautaud targeted college students and personally delivered to their dorms, charging 25 cents a sandwich. He worked hour days and learned basic finance on the fly.

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Meanwhile, Liautaud implemented systems that ensured consistency at every restaurant. Store layouts were strictly standardized, from the size of the walk-in refrigerators to the placement of the sinks. In Liautaud decided to diversify his fortune by selling off a piece of the company.

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He selected Weston Presidio, a private equity firm in Boston, after one of its partners came to visit him at home in Champaign. For another half-dozen or so years, business boomed, but at some point things became less fun. Liautaud considered a public offering but then reversed course. Instead, Liautaud sought an investment from another private equity firm, which would not only allow Weston to cash out but also provide him with an experienced partner. The overnight paid off for both men.

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That October, Roark bought out Weston, which reportedly made 16 times its initial investment. Liautaud sold more than half his stake. The sandwich industry is also becoming increasingly concentrated and competitive: with Subway 24, U. Roark is also helping the business use data to track everything from customer satisfaction to the popularity of menu items to the traffic inside restaurants.

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One hundred forty-eight new restaurants opened last year, mainly by existing franchisees, and more are in the pipeline. He floors it, and the speedometer whips to miles per hour. He rotates through his collection of 50 vehicles, which he started amassing in , just before Weston bought in.

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  5. Liautaud had been on a waiting list for three years. This is life now for Liautaud. It, which recently traveled to Ibiza and Monaco, or at one of his several homes. Does this mainly reflect self-segregation—people of common background or affinity clustering together? He said that he thought the underreported story of the moment was how people frustrated with national-level politics were shifting their enthusiasm and their careers to the state and local levels, where they could make a difference.

    When I spoke with him at the time, he suggested the situation was like people fleeing the world of Veep —bleak humor on top of genuine bleakness—for a non-preposterous version of Parks and Recreation. Based on my own experience I could give a hundred examples of this attitude from around the country, virtually none of them drawing national attention and many of them involving people creatively expanding the roles of libraries, community colleges, and other institutions to meet local needs. Here is just one, from Indiana: The factory town of Muncie is famed as the site of the Middletown sociology studies a century ago.

    It was the longtime home of the Ball Brothers glass-jar company, since departed.

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    It is still the home of Ball State University, steadily growing. Like other manufacturing cities in the Midwest, Muncie has battled the effects of industrial decline. Among the consequences was a funding crisis for the Muncie Community Schools, which became so severe that two years ago the state took the system into receivership.

    Last year, Ball State University became the first-ever public university in the country to assume direct operational responsibility for an entire K—12 public-school system. But getting this far involved innovation and creativity in the political, civic, financial, and educational realms to win support in a diverse community. Mearns, who has been president of Ball State since and is a guiding force behind the plan, told me this year in Muncie. Run away.

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    But you have to do it. This craziness and commitment keeps a culture alive. A new world is emerging, largely beyond our notice. Our Towns: James Fallows on how a local newspaper survives. Even when the formal ties of the Roman empire had broken, informal links connected its various parts. In the absence of the Roman state, there was still the Latin language as the original lingua franca; there was still a network of roads. Christianity in some form was a shared religion. Today the links include trade, travel, family lineage, and collaborative research—links that, like the internet, were forged in an era of functioning national and global institutions but with a better chance to endure.

    What would happen if you were hit by a penny falling from a skyscraper?

    Senate has not approved a major treaty in years. Morley Winograd, a former adviser to Al Gore and a co-author of the new book Healing American Democracy: Going Local , argues that networked localities have already taken effective control of crucial policy areas. He gave the example of planting trees, which might sound insignificant but, according to a new study by researchers in Switzerland, could be a crucial step toward removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

    Last year, the Trump administration said it would abandon the targets for cutting automobile emissions and improving fuel efficiency that the Obama administration had said automakers must reach. Historians in a thousand years will know for sure whether the American empire in this moment was nearing its own late antiquity. Perhaps by then Muncie and South Bend will loom as large in the historical imagination as the monasteries of Cluny and St.

    Gall do today. The ancient university towns of Palo Alto and New Haven may lie in different countries. We want to hear what you think about this article.