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Grassroots Economic Development
|by Paul Glover|
Corporate media have hardly noticed, but the United States' economy is being rebuilt by thousands of creative grassroots initiatives, at the same time that U.S. industrial jobs are being lost to globalization. Even as poverty increases, thousands of practical programs are proving people can rebuild damaged local economies from the ground up-making them better than before. Thousands of jobs are being invented by citizens dedicated to ecology and social justice. How? They are creating wealth locally, and producing what they need.
Imagine if the billions of hours yearly of paid labor that Americans perform were dedicated to making our lives easier, rather than to enriching banks, utilities, landlords, agribusiness, insurance companies, chain stores, oil companies and government. We'd be living instead in homes that need little fuel for heating and air conditioning, homes that we'd own securely by ourselves or as land trust partners. We'd be transported in vehicles that need little fuel-by rail especially. We'd eat far more food grown without pesticides. We'd be responsible trustees of the natural resources of our regions. And we'd be trading money created locally for our use-money that stays home to help us hire each other and which is available without interest charges. Our time and money would be used to make our neighborhoods friendly and beautiful.
This kind of job creation is called community economics. Capitalism, by contrast, says that jobs come from investors and bankers. And socialism says that jobs come from politicians and bureaucrats. They both say that they are the only ones with the money, authority and knowledge to create jobs. But good jobs are now coming from average people who work, who raise children, and who depend on the health of communities.
Here's Where Local Wealth Comes From:
Regions make themselves rich and powerful primarily by recycling their existing wealth, to magnify it. That means retaining the talents, skills, and money of local people in the community as much as possible, while connecting the community to take care of itself to the maximum extent practical.
Even many local governments are catching on to better kinds of job development. They've quit chasing heavy industry, venture capital, and franchises. St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, has a Homegrown Economy Project. Eugene, Oregon hosts the Buy Oregon project, which finds local contractors to bid for regional manufacturing subcontracts. In Littleton, Colorado, the director of business/industrial affairs, Christian Gibbons, says "our New Economy Project creates economic development from the inside. Research shows that 90% of new jobs are created by local business."
Working with existing businesses returns "the biggest bang for the buck." The federal study "Local Economic Development Tools" agrees, concluding that expansion of local firms through import replacement programs can generate ten times more jobs than imported capital.
Here are some of the ways this is done:
As local wealth increases through these programs, there is more money available for producing goods and services that feed the transition from dependence to strength. It's important to note that local and regional self-reliance do not isolate communities. They give them added capability to reach to each other, with ecological export industry and travel. The above examples, again, are among the hundreds of types of programs that give citizens genuine democratic power-in the marketplace- where it counts.
Here Are a Few Examples of These Jobs:
Virtually everything used in a locality can potentially be made locally, by small energy-efficient shops that use regional resources (including components of discards), and which control and recycle all emissions and byproducts. Specialty materials shops (such as foundries & sawmills) can be linked to each other and to micro-industrial assembly shops by Flexible Manufacturing Networks.
Even today, thousands of high-quality household goods are produced locally for internal markets, such as soaps, shoes, clothes, rugs, drapes, food, toys, and furniture. Communities are busy providing food & food processing, compost, garden tools, clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, wool & angora goods, plant fibers, recycled fibers, lamps, tools, forges, herbal medicines and healing. These are the basics.
There are thousands more products for which regional and national markets could be found, such as trolley components & cargo bikes, insulation, transit, compost toilets, cleaning supplies, scrap metal reprocessing. You name it; such products can be made and exported without waiting for external capital, and without further contaminating our environment.
As local production networks for such industries as these become more extensive, and as the increase in local wealth enables more of us to afford locally-produced durables and household goods, the unit price for local artisanry and manufacture gradually becomes competitive with mass-produced imports.
Locally-made goods are already competitively priced, when we calculate that buying local goods in locally-owned stores produces local jobs that save money by reducing unemployment's costs of social services, vandalism, drug use, violent crime, and jail.
Several related changes in local economies are needed to facilitate these transitions:
Again, none of the above is exotic. They are national trends.
Such processes promise measured improvement rather than continued decline. With these tools we'll be able to use our buying power to vote for better communities and set examples for the world.
We'll measure our worth as neighbors and citizens, rather than as consumers. Yet we'll own more of quality than before.
Best of all, we'd revive an American Dream-to earn enough money from one job to raise a child, to feed and clothe ourselves well, and even relax. We'd have work that's creative and interesting. We'd have more than jobs and money. We'd enjoy life, by putting love at the center of commerce.
Paul Glover is founder of Citizen Planners of Los Angeles and author of Los Angeles: A History of the Future. He has written several urban histories, worked in advertising, journalism and barnyards, holds a degree in City Management, and rides his bicycle everywhere. He invented Ithaca HOURS, the first bioregional money.