Lean on this chair; local economy idea brings pleasant disorientation

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This shopping center in Hixson has several empty stores, such as the one at right that once housed a Food Lion. Local economies infected by inflation-riddled national economies offer many such places as signs of malinvestment, distorted market signals and overbuilding.

The idea of local economy is pleasantly disorienting. It allows unexpected intellectual and spiritual connections that are fruity. Here I point not to a fault, but a virtue. The concept that favors a city’s self-determination, loves the small over the giant and the local over the remote has strengths beyond my early recognition of it.

Entrepreneurs raising capital practice their 30-second elevator speeches in which they make a pitch for an investor’s favor in the time it takes a lift to slip from a basement parking garage to a conference hall level.

It’s after worship service and a visitor to my church asks me what I write about. “I write about local economy,” I start. Better define it. “Local economy accounts for God’s creation and the physical world, and refuses to look at the world through any modern ideologies such as feminism, but starts with real people and works outwardly. Take, for example, the idea of women in the military. There’s a local economy way in which to look at that issue. Don’t look at that issue ideologically, forcing people to fit into an idealistic conception. Start, rather, with real women you know, and work outward to a general conviction.”

Is there any circumstance in which a woman should die for a man, that a woman should dog-paddle in a shark-infested sea while a man lies safe in a lifeboat, a woman should protect a man from physical danger? Do any of the women you know deserve to be in combat? Local economy is inductive vs. deductive.

A general theory of employment, interest and money

Local economy is the idea of investing in one’s hometown and believing people in that city are qualified to determine their own future. Local economy builds upon the provincialism that God builds into every soul by virtue of an individual living in one place in one time. Local economy distrusts government solutions, sees death in the first “free” dollar from outside subsidy,‡ favors local political and economic autonomy, wants divestment from Wall Street and investment on Main Street, boosts local food and farmers markets, applauds homeschooling over subsidized factory schooling.

Local economy arises as an operating concept because the national sector is facing collapse of its credit and the bankruptcy of its patrons (the U.S. government, the Federal Reserve System), and that local people — whether in Chattanooga or your town — should develop resources, relationships and graces that will speed local recovery after national shocks and sequential meltdowns of which 2008 was a foretaste.

Paradigm shift

My goal is to help us shift our thinking about self-determination in light of the failed god of politics and the promises of Christianity. Coming shocks will make people more open to the concept and more able to avoid tremendous financial and personal losses that await the city — coming because of its confidence in national economy, the federal government and Wall Street.

The arguments for local economy from authors such as Michael Shuman (Local Dollars, Local Sense and Small-Mart Economy) are often by “secular” authors who seem to agree with  Christendom in its outworkings in the area of service, otherly orientation and grace. The arguments Mr. Shuman makes in his books for local investing and personal economics could well be made by Christians exploring the practicalities of their biblical presuppositions and allegiance. Christianity argues for free market capitalism, honest money, faithfulness in contracts, generosity, innovation in service to others, for a decentralized and free political and economic order.  Mr. Shuman’s background differs from mine. He is pro-union, secularist and scientific, pro-environmental, oriented in the tradition of the Democratic party and deriving from a Jewish background a confidence in the caretaker state. But we come close together in exploring local economy. I find his books greatly helpful, and recommend that you read them.

In a letter, Mr. Shuman says he is experiencing what might fairly be called a pleasant disorientation that local economy creates. It happens to him as a liberal; it’s happening to me as a conservative.

“My politics are more in flux than you think – I’ve been writing a piece in my head entitled ‘Why I Would like to Be A Republican (But Can’t Now),’ Mr. Shuman joshes, “ — and would welcome more back and forth on this point. I’d also welcome discussing how we might spearhead more discussion and action together in Chattanooga.”

Local economy as a perspective and system of thought brings together people on opposite ends of the political spectrum. People on the left like the arguments I am offering. People on the right. Statists and libertarians are able to lay aside some of their differences to say, “Yes, we are for Chattanooga, and we want self-determination, no more taking orders from the people who are responsible for needless foreign wars and domestic surveillance, no more sapping taxpayers.”

National economy — home of corporate welfare

Mr. Shuman explains that local economy is able to unite diverse critics of corporate welfare. “I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that the only reason economic development departments continue to embrace ‘attract and retain’ through public bribery is that their big deals make big news and make good political talking points. The research has thoroughly discredited all the other plausible reasons, including economic development. You’ll see in my book some suggestions on how you might be able to torpedo these white elephant projects and get your city back on track.

 “On the politics of this, I’ve found a lot of resonance with principled progressives and conservatives, both of whom favor decentralization for different reasons. Some of my most enthusiastic audiences have been in Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah – the reddest states in America.  The economic developers typically stand in the muddled middle, practicing old-style porkbarrel politics that they get away with ONLY because they insist that their deals must be secret. It’s a grotesque profession, which Ira Glass, of This American Life, accurately described as a field where everyone specializes in stealing one another’s jobs.

 “The only real economic development comes from creating jobs through local entrepreneurship.  That’s what this country was founded upon, and what will lead us out of the current economic doldrums.”

The concept of corporate colonialism in Chattanooga becomes clear when we realize what happens to profits. In a locally owned company, profit remains local, and the owner spends and invests locally (often). He reinvests in his business, spreading the wealth around, the lubrication of profit that sustains him. A foreign-owned company based elsewhere siphons profit out of Chattanooga and Hamilton County. Just as a business that earns no profit is not sustainable, a city without profit is not sustainable. To restate, a city in which companies export profit is less sustainable than one in which business owners recirculate money in the city and county, hiring local people and expanding their areas of service.

‡ The federally funded downtown bike riding program is an example of false signals from free national economy money. “Phillip Pugliese, the city’s bicycle coordinator, said this week a $2 million federal grant that launched the program will run out by the end of September, and Bike Chattanooga will have to be self-sufficient by then. To date, the city has spent almost $2 million to buy the bikes, set up the stations, get the program going and pay one full-time and three part-time employees, Pugliese said. Total revenue so far is $51,719 in membership fees and $61,932 in sponsorships and advertising, for a total of $113,951, records show.” Cliff Hightower, “Chattanooga bike share program must pull its own weight,” Chattanooga Times Free Press website, June 29, 2013.

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