Saturday, November 13, 2004

Josh Harkinson: Profits of Place

"Profits of Place: A different vision of success emerges along Main Street."
Josh Harkinson

An Excerpt:

"In a living economy, investors seek a 'living return' -- one partially paid by the benefits of living in healthy, vibrant communities and participating [in civic affairs]," Wicks says. "By addressing the deeper needs of their employees and community, business owners can grow their companies in new ways, providing more fulfilling jobs, healthier communities, and greater economic security for their bioregions."

A living economy sustains community life, economic viability, and the natural environment. "We have to change our concept about how we measure value in things, and get people to be willing to pay more for something that's well made, made locally, and that they would have for a long time," Wicks says.

BALLE members join local "affiliates" (a term intended to emphasize how BALLE -- which is pronounced "bah-lee" -- is a bottom-up kind of organization) and pledge to purchase as many locally made items as possible -- everything from energy to personal clothing. Banding together, they attempt to construct an alternative to corporate globalization by building local and, if their plans work out, international networks of self-sufficient economic communities. "This is a new way to operate," Wicks says. "It's about stepping outside your business and working collectively and cooperatively with others to rebuild entire local economies."

THE FIRST PERSON to unite small businesses into a national force for economic self-determination was born in Porbunder, India, in 1869. Mohandas Gandhi is best known as the pioneer of nonviolent resistance, but many of the techniques he used to fight British imperialism harnessed market forces. He inspired Indians to burn imported British fabrics and return to the traditional textiles woven in villages, and he helped retrain local spinners, weavers, and carders. Gandhi's independence movement illustrated how a group such as the BALLE could combat modern colonizers that today take the form of Burger King and Wal-Mart. Wicks invokes Gandhi's example when she promotes BALLE. "Where Gandhi fought British tyranny," Wicks says, "we're now fighting corporate tyranny -- and we're using the same strategies."

By effectively ignoring global corporations, the BALLE strategy represents a break from more traditional efforts to reform them, choosing to focus instead on the benefits of local businesses and their interconnections. Strengthening local economies shortens the separation between cause and effect, allowing business owners and customers to comprehend the environmental and social impacts of their behavior more immediately. It also causes economic interests to mesh more effectively with community interests by illustrating how they overlap.

BALLE employs a diverse set of strategies to bolster business on Main Street. For instance, it lobbies for policies to tailor technology for regional use and to recirculate financial capital locally. But the foundation of any local living economy is a community's appreciation for its own uniqueness. BALLE thus focuses heavily on boosting community pride and tying this notion to the idea of local purchasing.

Read the Entire Article

For more on BALLE economics, Harry recommends the Andersonville Study of Economics (Chicago, IL: 2004). This report outlines some of the obvious benefits of locally owned, locally supplied, and locally staffed businesses.


Deleted said...

The Balle Network study on doing business locally.

Michael Benton said...

Thanks Harry--I placed it in the post.

The Continental Op said...

When I lived in Philadelphia, I was pretty fond of the food and beer at the White Dog. But I was much less fond of Judy Wicks, the doyenne of the "shopping for a better world" set. Her self-promoting feel-good capitalism is undoubtedly a good business model. But it has very little to do with fundamental social change or radical activism.

The epitome of Wicks-ism was a labor day event at the White Dog, where she had a corporate executive come to talk about the intense psychic pain he experienced upon laying off numerous employees. I am not making that up.