Saturday, July 26, 2008

Going Local

In this era of globalization, it's nice to see that some authors are focusing on local economic efforts. Three books in particular have caught my attention: Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age by Michael Shuman, Making a Place for Community: Local Politics in a Global Era by Thad Williamson, Gar Alperovitz, and David Imbroscio, and America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy by Gar Alperovitz. It's probably not an accident that all these authors are associated with the Institute for Policy Studies, and that Making a Place for Community frequently sites Going Local, and America Beyond Capitalism cites both of the previous books.

The theme of all three books is that local economic alternatives, including community- and municipally-owned corporations, help build stable communities and, as Alperovitz points out in America Beyond Capitalism, create more more democratic ownership of wealth. The books cover a lot of alternatives, including employee-ownership, worker-run businesses, cooperatives, community development corporations, and land trusts. Both Going Local and Making a Place for Community have extensive resource lists in their appendices: Shuman calls his 'Around the World Economy in 80 Ways'; the appendix in Making a Place for Community is more simply entitled 'Resources for Rebuilding'. The amount of information in these books is incredible and very useful.

But that may be the main problem with at least two of these books. While they each do some evaluating, in their attempts to be comprehensive, all three of them almost seem more like catalogs than well argued works. While having so much information is useful, reading these books is almost numbing at times, as they list one local economic enterprise after another. These books are wonderful resources, but I'd like to find some works that critically evaluate community-based economic experiments--what works, what doesn't, and what could be connected to build regional economic networks. Alperovitz does devote a couple of chapters in America Beyond Capitalism to 'The Regional Restructuring of the American Continent', but rather than just listing a few regional structures, he needs to flesh out what is possible if his 'Pluralistic Commonwealth' is going to be more than just another idea.

On the other hand, Going Local gets prescriptive in its last chapter. Michael Shuman ends his book with suggestions and ideas of where to go with all this. Among other things, he includes 'Ten Steps Toward Community Self-Reliance', starting with 'A Community Bill of Rights' and ending with 'Interlocalism' (and including things like 'Community Currency' and 'A Lobby for Localism'). While I think all of these books are worth reading, if only to learn how much local and cooperative organizing is going on, Going Local may be the most useful of the three. It may also be worth owning both Going Local and Making a Place for Community to have both of these comprehensive appendices on hand.

Quote of the day: "A new commitment to going local would mark a dramatic shift in the economic-development strategy of almost every city in America. It's a strategy that will unify people of many political stripes. Talk with the heads of Chambers of Commerce and the leaders of progressive social movements, and you will find that both are livid about being misled and sold out by the promises of disloyal corporations." - Michael Shuman
Word (or phrase) of the day: Libertarian Municipalism
Hero(es) of the day: Thomas Merton

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