Illinois' Rural Affairs Council has heard again from the expert.

Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs director Chris Merrett says commerce helped build Chicago, citing not only commodity processing but also the success of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. But now, Caught in the Middle and Hollowing Out the Middle are a couple of books encouraging Illinoisans to contemplate the state's decline.

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"Where are we going? We can talk about rural reindustrialization, value-added agriculturization, ethanol," Merrett says. "It turns out Texas has a more progressive school funding system than Illinois. I wuold not have guessed Texas was a progressive funder of its public schools. It's a more progressive funder than Illinois."

Merrett says it can be costly to get, for example, an iPad into every rural Illinois students' hands, and then there's service. Merrett says he has trouble getting through a Netflix movie without it buffering, and that's in Macomb, the capital of "Forgottonia."

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