Here in the Monadnock region, we are fortunate to have a strong local economy. There is a great diversity of business, including manufacturing, insurance, tourism, education, and agriculture. We also have groups that support these businesses. One such group is Hannah Grimes, whose mission is to educate entrepreneurs. They offer a wide variety of workshops and other assistance, providing knowledge and a chance to network . And on Main Street they have a marketplace for local products. We tell our guests at the Bridges Inn that no trip to downtown Keene is complete without stopping there.
Another group is Monadnock Buy Local (we like them on Facebook). Recently, I met with Jen Risley to get some more information. She explained that they work with local businesses, entrepreneurs, and schools. A lot of their work can be done online, by connecting people and sharing ideas. It sounds to me like they are building social capital and a stronger community. She also recommended that I read a book by a local author, Antioch professor Tom Wessels. It is called The Myth of Progress and helped me to understand some key concepts.
Wessels is concise, conveying the feeling of a deep understanding of and connection to the subject matter. By calling into question some assumptions we may hold, he challenges us to be pro-active. Starting today, we can begin to integrate our lives with the community, and we shouldn't wait for a law or someone to tell us to do so. The local economy is a system, better understood as a whole rather than by its individual parts. In fact, Wessels says, "...we are deceived into a sense that we can control things like nature, the economy, or social problems by tinkering with parts."
There is strength in diversity. Wessels uses examples from the natural world. In evolution, we see mutualism between species, where everyone gains and the ecosystem is made more resilient. Looking at a system in its entirety, a cheaper upfront price often masks the true costs. "If the price of all products truly reflected the cost in energy consumption related to their production and shipping, energy efficient products would have the lowest prices, and a market system would naturally push for energy efficiency," Wessels tells us. Thus, the initial savings on a cheaper product are fleeting, while the premium we may be paying for a locally-produced product are actual savings in the long-run.
As an economics student at Keene State, I've learned that this is consistent with economic theory. Your neighbors are your customers and employees, so aggregate demand is boosted by shopping locally. And sustainability is really just a long-term approach, in which a community is healthy because it can adapt to changes.
I was familiar with a few of the names mentioned in Wessels' book, such as Steve Keen and Al Bartlett, and I might add my own, Jeremy Rifkin's Empathic Civilization, if you want to learn more. Wessels also taught me something about Pisgah State Park, right here in our own backyard. At over 13,000 acres, it's second largest state park in New England and home to some old-growth trees. I'll have to go out there and explore!