April 28, 2010

Can we prevent a world-wide depression?

No talk of running in this post. Just some thoughts about where I see us going. If not interested in armchair crystal-ball-gazing, skip it.

This recession is not getting better, despite what few Wall Street indicators are ticking upwards. Real indicators - unemployment rates, housing starts, median incomes, income to debt ratios - are universally getting worse. It is not just a problem in America, it is world-wide. Have you read the newspapers lately? The financial parts and the world news parts? They look extremely similar and the outlook is bleak. In short, we are headed for a world-wide depression.

I'm not an economist, but the basics I was taught in college seem to be proving themselves correct as we watch the shenanigans of Wall Street bring down the global economic system. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and Congress is surely getting pissed about what happened, but are doing and can do very little to prevent it all again. I have a solution: keep your bucks local. I'll come back to this in a minute.

Read the headlines again and realize that when the global economy tips, things are going to get very bad. How can we survive? Keep your bucks local.

Like a food chain, the linked economies of the world, from your local neighborhood all the way up to international financial empires, all derive from the power of the local dollar. You spend money. If that money is spent locally, it supports the local economy, which in turn supports you. If you buy something from a national or international corporation, you're supporting someone else's economy, not yours. Chances are, the jobs generated by those international companies are not in your community. And if they are, then your neighbors two towns over aren't getting the benefit.

Use your local banks. They do just as good a job at keeping your money safe, often have better customer service and a wider range of options. Use your local lending institutions where possible. Use your local hardware store and keep the money of its profits in the community, rather than the big box stores - which represent a net outflow of wealth from your community. Buy your clothes and toiletries at the small local shops, rather than the big box stores. Sure, the prices may be higher, but perhaps you'll learn how to take care of your clothes a little better and you'll benefit by keeping your bucks local.

Eat locally. You don't need to spend $5 for a Starbucks coffee fix and another $5 for one of their crappy pastries. Your money is going straight to the CEO's new Mercedes and fourth Malibu mansion (or whatever). But you can spend $2.50 at the sidewalk cart in the morning and walk away with an excellent cup of coffee and a muffin the size of your cat's head. And this money stays local. Don't buy those crappy pre-made "bagels" in the chain grocery store, but the fresh-made bagels from the corner store across the street, which, incidentally, will toast it for you, put a giant amount of cream cheese on it, and pair it with a large coffee. Lunch for three dollars. And the bucks stay local. That bodega owner takes his profits and hires the local painter to repaint his store. That local painter then hires you to do his taxes. Or whatever.

Some of it is karma, some of it is luck, but a lot of it is just willpower: willpower to keep the local economy revolving, willpower to pay a little more for some things, willpower to force the micro-economy to survive even in the face of a disintegrating - or rather transmogrifying - global power and economic structure.

Things are going to get worse - a lot worse I think - before they get better. But communities that band together and use each other's services will do better and recover more easily faster than communities that know only how to send their money outwards.

No comments: