“Local” doesn’t guarantee ethical business

The recent article on the firing at Buchi Kombucha should serve as a reminder that “local” business doesn’t inherently mean fair business ["Bottled in Bond," Dec. 22 Xpress]. Often the economic re-localization movement presents “local” as a panacea for a wide variety of economic and social woes while ignoring the systemic pressures brought to bear on a business to expand, cut wages and harm the environment in the pursuit of higher returns on investments and loans. While re-localization is certainly a necessary step toward creating a just, fair and sustainable economy, we must remember that it is in no way sufficient.

Historically, local businesses have presaged modern global abuse, from “local” coal companies keeping their workers in virtual slavery with company scrip to “local” railroads corrupting public officials and “local” factories dumping toxic waste. Our current economic woes have grown out of small, successful local businesses that followed the logic of the market and decided to grow. Today we can see small business abusing workers and harming the environment both globally and locally.

From local businesses that force overtime and avoid paying Social Security, to local farmers who dump pesticides on their fields, “local” is by no means a guarantee of what many in the local business community want to stand for.

In order to create sustainable workplaces that provide fulfilling, creative work that can sustain a family, we need to look beyond a change in scale to a change in structure. So long as some people work while others benefit from their labor, and capital is dispensed to those who provide the highest profit rather than the highest return to the community, local business will continue to imitate global business, and we will not achieve the type of economy we need.

— Joe Rinehart
Asheville

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50 thoughts on ““Local” doesn’t guarantee ethical business

  1. Viking

    Renters rights and the experience of renters dealing with bad landlords in the region might be a bigger business ethics story.

  2. travelah

    Mr. Rinehart, perhaps you could offer some suggestions to combat what you feel is an unfair business model in Asheville and by all means, share how you would implement this in a relatively open and free society as we live in.

  3. cwaster

    Viking- that’s a great idea. I can hardly count the number of horror stories I’ve heard, and have had at least 2 awful experiences myself. One involved a landlord outright stealing from me, and the police refused to do anything “because it was a civil matter.”

  4. antelope

    That seems like a question that a lot of people have, Travelah. Here’s an interesting option for a community looking to implement a fair and wealth-producing economy: the Mondragon model from Spain. Over a period of decades, it has gotten quite large.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation

    From the wikipedia page:

    “The ties that link the MONDRAGON Co-operatives are strong, as these bonds emanate from a humanist concept of business, interrelated by a philosophy of participation and solidarity and a shared business culture rooted in a number of Basic Principles, a shared Mission and the acceptance of a set of Corporate Values and General Policies of a business nature.”

  5. Raedio

    While it’s true that renters rights (or issues surrounding the ethics of rent in general) are important issues we must not pretend that these conversations cannot exist in parallel. There are many struggles worthy of engagement and it’s a misnomer to discredit one struggle for the purpose of elevating another as the purported “real” issue. Not only are all these issues relevant, but they must all be addressed if we want to bring real change.

  6. NotBasheville

    I agree, I’d love to hear how we can implement this in a timely fashion as well. More so, I’d love to hear how well your example of an alternative, Firestorm Cafe, is doing. Would you share how well the business is doing? Are all of the employees self sufficient? Are any of them on food-stamps, in section 8 housing? Is Firestorm Cafe able to pay for quality health insurance for all of the owners? What are the perks for the owners? Where does Firestorm get its’ produce, products, and drinks and how does it pay for them? How does it pay rent? Is this a real solution?

    I have to admit, I used to frequent the place until I realized that you do not support real time solutions to our current reality. We all need to dream, but this is far too idealistic.

  7. bill smith

    I always thought the benefit of ‘local’ was in economic terms. In that a local business is more likely to keep your currency (that you exchange with them for goods or services) in local circulation than a larger, non-locally based company.

    As far as ‘ethics’, what would possibly imply that ‘local’ would be connected that? I suspect there are unethical “local” people all over the world.

    But as long as I need to buy stuff (and try as I might, I inevitably need and choose to buy stuff), I’d rather buy it from the unethical jerk down the street than the unethical jerk based in Boca Raton. At least most the time.

    But you’re right. I’d be naive to assume his proximity to me implied an inherent level of ‘ethics’ commiserate with my own.

  8. Lucy Parsons

    so… i think that what joe really wants to say is what alice or whatever said in Local Capitalism is Still Capitalism, but hes afraid to go that far so he gives a wishy washy version of the same basic thing

  9. Well said, Joe. Local schmocal; Shop co-op! …workers’ cooperative, that is. I personally would far rather pay a premium to buy something from a workers’ cooperative in California or even China than buy from a small local business with a boss and employees.

  10. kandy

    @NotBashville,
    you seem to have a personal vendetta against Firestorm. I find it interesting that you are willing to imply that you know everyone well enough to criticize them (“I knew Libertie when he was still Scott”), but don’t use your real name.

    Though your comments have mostly read as snarky attacks, folks have still been clear about responding that they’d love to talk to you about it in person. It’s one thing to openly attack someone on the internet, but if you were actually interested in making positive change, which you are so vehement about, you’d be willing to do it in person.

  11. Margaret Williams

    @NotBasheville: Caution here — You do seem to be on an off-topic spin… which could be construed as attacking Firestorm.

  12. bill smith

    [i]I personally would far rather pay a premium to buy something from a workers’ cooperative in California or even China than buy from a small local business with a boss and employees. [/i]

    Really? Even taking into account the empire-subsidized petroleum necessary in the shipping?

    In addition, what is the problem in your mind with the employee/boss situtation? In many small businesses, the employess actually make more in wages than the employer- -In that the employer often takes on an enormous risk in investment and payroll, while the employee merely has to show up, do a pre-determined task and go home.

    ‘Employees’ could often easily become more invested members of their workplace if they chose (and were able) to take on the risks and lower wages such a long-term investment requires.

  13. Some amount of petroleum would inevitably get used, and the petroleum is probably not manufactured by workers’ cooperatives. So, if I were to buy an elephant, I would probably buy one locally. However, a bow-tie would be worth it.

    I understand many employers make less at first because they are looking at it as an investment. Then, later, they don’t even have to work any more and still get paid. Enormous risk? Risk is not an act of labor, and the risk is also assumed by the worker. And if the payroll is too much, well, the boss simply lays off the worker. No real risk there. I have no idea what “pre-determined tasks” have to do with anything, and everyone goes home after they work, unless they work at home.

  14. Ashevillejoe

    Dear NotBasheville,

    It’s readily apparent that you are what I like to call “deliberately ignorant”. You are picking and choosing examples of what you suggest I am calling solutions (at no point do I mention Firestorm), ignore readily available facts and making snaky comments, all in the interest of ignoring the obvious truth that “local” business can be unethical and harmful, and that there are alternatives. Of course, if you acknowledged those alternatives, you would have to crawl down off your high horse. Well, let me give you some solutions to answer your disingenuous criticism.

    First- Firestorm. We pay our owners better than Buchi pays theirs, always have. Both of the owners of Buchi have other family members who support them.

    Also, we are a successful project, we are doing better all the time financially, supporting our community and offering alternative critic’s of your worn out systems that are good for neither the planet or us as humans. Our mission isn’t summed up in our pocket books.

    Second, you want worker owned cooperatives that work? That thrive in a market? That provide great wages to their owners? I got those, and if you stopped being a jerk for two minuets and used a Google search you would to, which would save you this public drubbing. Lets start in your pantry and move out from there.

    Bob’s Red Mill flour, yep worker owned.
    Once Again Nut Butters, yep, worker owned to.
    Ditto for King Author Flour

    Lets move over to the tech sector for a second:
    Gaia Web Hosting http://www.gaiahost.coop
    Design Action http://www.designaction.org

    You want some heavy manufacturing? Got that to.
    Isthmus Engineering http://www.isthmuseng.com/

    How about a large multi-sector company? Got that.
    Mondragon- http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/language/en-US/ENG.aspx

    Wait, how about an economy where as much as 50% of all economic activity passes through a cooperative (housing, worker, consumer or agricultural)? Got that.

    The Emilia Romangia region of Italy.
    http://www.uwcc.wisc.edu/info/bologna.html

    Just a few samples from the wide world of cooperatives to get you started.

    Oh, and if you want more info on cooperatives a great place to start is:
    http://www.go.coop and the US Federation of Worker Owned Cooperatives http://www.usworker.coop

    The problem here is not a lack of solutions that don’t involve local capitalism, the problem is they require you to challenge yourself to look outside your little bubble and your personal privileged. Oh, and I echo Kandy, I’m tired of your personal snarking from behind an anonymous username, put yourself on the line or shut up.

  15. Ashevillejoe

    Wait, ya know what, I’ve got more to say Mr. Basheville. I wouldn’t normally toot our own horn like this, but since you attacked us, I will. Maybe we could pay ourselves more over at Firestorm, but then we would have to stop being one of the greenist, most locally sourced buisnesses in town. We choose to limit our impact on the earth, and to support local communities over taking home pay that we feel represents externalized costs that we force others then to bear. A few examples:

    All organic milk (also local), half and half (cooperatively produced) and soy milk (cooperatively produced). No other coffee shop in town does this.

    Cooperatively produced Tofu from Twin Oaks, as well as locally produced tempeh from smiling hara (localy grown soybeans what).

    NO US Foods Or Sysco account. We order almost all of our bulk food from United Natural, meaning that tons of our staples are organic, and all of it is high quality. As far as I know Rosetta’s is the only other shop in town that does this.

    Not to mention being some of the only locally controlled, free meeting space in downtown, not to mention hosting benefits, not to mention making donations to pretty much anyone who asks, not to mention being the most creative and fulfilling job I’ve ever had, not to mention hosting workshops for ourselves on queer and trans oppression issues, not to mention being the only locally business that gives all of it’s workers an equal say in running it. You wants I should go on?

  16. bill smith

    [i]I understand many employers make less at first because they are looking at it as an investment. Then, later, they don’t even have to work any more and still get paid.[/i]

    They MAY get to a place where they “don’t eve have to work again”. Although FAR more likely in the case of most small, locally-based businesses they would just be lucky to get to a place where they can compensate themselevs fairly for their continued work.

    I know very few local business owners who just sit around polishing their monocle on their 8000 sq. foot veranda while the minions toil shoeless. I know at least a few who continue to work 12 and 14 hour days just trying to keep their bills paid and their employees working (and getting paid).

    [i]Enormous risk? Risk is not an act of labor, and the risk is also assumed by the worker.[/i]

    But ‘risk’ is not the only thing being put forth by the average ‘small-business’ owner. It’s potentially years of hard work, long hours, often for no pay, in addition to an enormous capital investment that may or may not disappear entirely. This is hardly merely some theoretical ‘risk’ as you are apparently framing it.

    Your continued characterization in this example of local business owners as being some sort of privileged, non-working monied class seems to not be a very accurate representation of reality.

    [i]And if the payroll is too much, well, the boss simply lays off the worker. No real risk there.[/i]

    Again, you seem to have no idea what the actual ‘risks’ entailed in running a small business are, and where the real brunt of any decision is felt. If a business goes under, the employees lose a job, while the employer loses years of work and tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    We’re not talking about Boeing or Nike. We’re talking small businesses with a few employees running on what amounts to a shoestring budget. Go ahead and try and start a business and create a few jobs and see how much hard work it is.

    [i]everyone goes home after they work, unless they work at home. [/i]

    Yes, but an employee does not have to keep working well past the time the shop or factory closes. An owner does. Often 10-14 hours a day, for little or no pay. With no guarantee of a return on not just their financial investment, but all their time and energy.

    I think your assessment appears very rooted in some theoretical class struggle ideology of the monied class vs labor. And while that might apply to, say the top 10% of wealthy around the world, to try and compare a business like “Buchi”, with a handful of employees to say “American Steel” or Microsoft or Halliburton seems wrought with inaccuracies.

  17. I understand many employers make less at first because they are looking at it as an investment. Then, later, they don’t even have to work any more and still get paid.

    Now Thad, I hope you do not generalize small business owners like many people generalize anarchists.

    For the life of me I’ve been trying to think of ONE person that fits this description, and I by this point know a hundred small business owners.

  18. I know quite a few, too. And almost all of them fit that description. I would name some here, but the almighty Oz would just delete my comment.

  19. “So long as some people work while others benefit from their labor…”

    Yes, I agree. We should begin moving away from socialism and the involuntary servitude of the welfare state.
    ……………………….

  20. I know quite a few, too. And almost all of them fit that description. I would name some here, but the almighty Oz would just delete my comment.

    You and I must run in different circles then.

    Considering the failure rate, a small business is perhaps the worst investment a person can make. I have seen homes lost, marriages destroyed, and friendships ended. After working 60 – 80 hours a week paying landlords, taxes, supplies, taxes, goods, taxes and taxes, you MIGHT be able to scratch out enough to start paying yourself and perhaps other people as well.

    So why do it? Well, speaking personally it’s the single most gratifying thing I have ever done in my professional career. My worst day now is better than my best day working for someone else. I take great pride and satisfaction providing a service that a lot of people like and that I can now pay people to work here as well.

    I can’t imagine owning a business without working hard for it. Fighting hard for it.

  21. I don’t doubt that you and I run in different circles. I am a worker. I align myself with fellow workers.

  22. Like Orbit, I too have seen many small businesses start up. I was in a unique position when I live in New Orleans to see many start ups come and go. Without a large infusion of capitol a business owner must bootstrap and betotally obsessed. Not many have the luxury of being well funded going into a start up. So that means the owner must be willing to work 24/7 from 12 to 14 hours for several years to get the momentum going. And must do everything, from sweeping the floor, paying the bills, making the product, marketing the product, answering complaints gracefully and with true gratitude that you’ve been told what not to do…and on and on. This is why obsession is a requirement.

    Still, as Orbit said…it can be a wonderful learning experience, especially if one has the guiding principle of doing things legally and above board as much as is possible. Most all the start ups I saw doing things on the sly like paying under the table all folded. For me too, my worst day was better than my best working for someone else.

  23. Libertie

    @timpeck, I see your “welfare state” and raise you one “sovereign state”!

  24. LLJK

    I think the issue is that Buchi touts themselves as a local, hippie, ethical business built around sitting on piles of hay bales. Is that the politically correct image that comes to mind? Buchi is taking advantage of the local-liberal-guilt consumer base ($4 for a 12oz bottle @ Greenlife?!) Asheville is well known for, especially with the living-wage label. There was also a major conflict of interest between Just Economics and Buchi with a false label. Since they were called out on it, I don’t see any apologies or humbleness on their part.

    A $10/hour “employee” (Buchi’s so-called independent contractors paid through a 1099 on an assembly line) has to pay double the social security taxes out of that person’s own pocket, while Buchi contributes none – serving the company more than the employees. In a traditional employee paid system, Buchi would pay half the SS taxes, saving that employee the burden. Buchi also gets to skip out on worker’s comp insurance, which *is* a major expense they would have incurred with a traditional employee. Are they paying this insurance? maybe, anyone care to answer…?

    Without worker’s compensation insurance, what happens if an “independent contractor” is injured while on the assembly line?

  25. Debra McCloud

    “I am a worker. I align myself with fellow workers.”
    My husband is one of the hardest workers I know. He never takes a day off from work…ever.

  26. bill smith

    ““I am a worker. I align myself with fellow workers.” ”

    And yet you seem to know the intimate financial and work details of several local business owners who apparently profit off their employees while never lifting a finger themselves. Except to polish their monocle.

    I would suggest you expand your circle of influence a bit.

  27. Bill:

    You are right. I am not talking about Boeing or Nike. I am talking about small business owners whom I have personally worked for. Here is what I have witnessed at every job I can remember having right now:

    1.) first one: bus boy at a fish restaurant: Couple who owned the place spent most of their time visiting with their friends who would come in to patronize them. All the woman did was run the cash register. Often times, the man sat for hours talking or else just went back home. They both worked there until the city bought their shop and bulldozed it over for a road

    2.) second job: bus boy at a breakfast shop. Also a mom-and-pop place. Pop would sit at a table most of the time and smoke cigarettes and talk trash with everyone else around him. The woman would run the cash register. They would go home whenever they wanted. They are still there every day sitting around and piddling with this or that until they decide to go do something else.

    3.)Third job: Grunt man digging trenches for a corporate-run power company. Best money I made for a long time thereafter. There was no investor-boss there. Very hard work.

    4.) Went to work on a tree farm. The managers worked alongside us, but didn’t get paid much more than us. The big boss-investor was a furniture company, and we never saw them. They certainly never stepped foot on the farm.

    5.) Worked in a greenhouse for a family. After they hired me, they figured they had enough job-scared peons around to keep them from having to come in every day. I quit that miserable job.

    5.) Went to work in a corporate factory making plastic car parts. Everyone worked. It was good money with good benefits. No one who was there was an investor.

    6.) Went to work as a newspaper reporter in a small, corporate newspaper. My boss was a complete jerk who expected me to work 60 hours a week and get paid for 30. Meanwhile, he worked for 60 and got paid for 60. However, no one there was an investor. The investor was someone who eventually went to prison for embezzling.

    7.) Next, I took a job as a crime reporter with the Los Angeles Times. I was literally surrounded by three different managers where I sat in my cubicle. It looked as though they were all piddling around with something or another, but who knows? It was a situation that was about as close to the movie Office Space as you can imagine. I was there two weeks before I walked out.

    8.)Next job was server for a large corporate chain restaurant. Lots of fun. Very little money. Everybody stayed busy, including the bosses. Customers were absolute hell.

    9.) Next, I worked in advertising for a medium sized corporate newspaper. I believe the greatest portion of my supervisor’s job was micromanaging each of us, which was a total waste of time. I am not sure she did anything productive at all. She got fired after I walked out.

    10.)Went into the newspaper printing business. The direct boss was a drunk with anger management problems, but he stayed busy and was always worried about what he would do if he ever lost his job. He was already old enough to retire, but needed the money too bad. Well, the publisher fired him for making customers afraid of him one day, but I think it was because he was getting old. Then, the publisher laid me off after we lost a big customer and lost work.

    11.) Spent one year working in a printing factory, but they just kept stringing me along as a temp. Very hard work, and everyone appeared to keep working. However, here again, the investors were not working in the business.

    12.) Spent two years working in a locally owned print shop. The boss would rarely show up before 10 a.m. even though he expected the rest of us there before nine. Then, he would take a two-hour lunch and might knock off early or he might stay around later. Half the time I went into his office, he was playing video games. He then hired on his son to one day head the business. He soon thereafter laid me off because business was too slow to keep everyone one. Before I left, he said his business was worth a million dollars.

    13.) Helped form a workers’ cooperative and shared in all the managerial and day-to-day duties. There were no employees, just us, and no one person was in charge of us. We were all in charge of ourselves, together.

    14.) Spent about six months working for the U.S. Census Bureau, which was one of the worst jobs I have ever had.

    15.) Then, I got a job where I work now, in a local high-tech manufacturing facility with big bosses and investors who all live in Europe. I see no one loafing there either.

    Based on these personal experiences, I can say that small businesses, the ones where the investors, or at least the ones claiming to have taken all the oh-so-terrible risks, are the ones who offer the worst working environments to their employees for the worst pay and are most likely the only bosses who are there just counting down the days when they can slack off and still get paid. Perhaps your experience is different.

  28. bill smith

    [i]I know quite a few, too. And almost all of them fit that description. I would name some here, but the almighty Oz would just delete my comment. [/i]

    Thad, if you do indeed have this list of names of the evil local capitalists who are oppressing Asheville, I would encourage you to post them in this less-moderated thread:

    http://www.mountainx.com/forums/viewthread/4126/

    There, we can further examine many of these bold claims of yours and the letter write.

  29. My husband is one of the hardest workers I know. He never takes a day off from work…ever.

    Mrs. Orbit gets mad if I don’t work enough.

  30. Margaret Williams

    @Bill, @Thad… y’all appear to be developing a personal spat here (and on the forum thread above). Not cool. Keep it civil. Refrain from continuing to bait each other. Stay on topic here.

  31. bill smith

    Apologies if you feel I was off-topic here, Ms Williams. Although after re-reading the thread I still think I am very much on topic, since the topic and subsequent comments are about denigrating the local business community.

    I was under the impression these threads were for community dialogue, but in the future I will stick to “Cool article” and “Neat pic!”.

    Thank you for the warning.

  32. bill smith

    @Thad–Thanks for your last response. Although I am confused. Hadn’t you made reference to several local Asheville employers? Because I don’t think the LA times is local.

  33. I don’t doubt that you and I run in different circles. I am a worker. I align myself with fellow workers.

    My worker friends didn’t abandoned me after I opened a business…

    Out of curiosity, if one of your friends decides to open a business and hire people, do you stop being friends with them?

  34. @ Margaret Williams:
    The conversation appears to be between me and two supporters of local businesses, but in reality, I think whatever we have to say in response to each other might be interesting or at least humorous to anyone else who has an interest in this subject.

    @Bill:
    You are correct. The L.A. Times is not a local paper. Thank God.

    @Marc:
    No one I am friendly with has ever hired someone to do a service or make a product in a business they invested their own money in, that is then sold to a consumer at a price higher than the price of material plus labor, all for the sake of adding that surplus value to the investors’ dividends, if that investor is also the boss.
    I realize there are some people who just don’t want to be their own boss for some reason, or to help run a workers’ cooperative, and those people I suppose need a job as well, and someone has to hire them. The same might be said of landlords: There are indeed people looking for a home who do not, at least at the time they move in, really want to be a homeowner. I have a basement, for instance, that I have started work on in order to turn it into a rental. However, I had many, many hours of discussion about this before we started work. Is this really ethical? How can I remain morally consistent? Then, my partner reminded me that there are indeed people around here, mainly younger people maybe, or college kids, or those who travel a lot, who are not really wanting their “own” place here right now, and those people might be interested in renting from us. However, when I am looking for renters, I am purposely going to seek out only those types of renters. If I ever needed help with a business I plan to have one day soon, I would first consider a workers’ cooperative. That is how difficult it is to take the moral high road. Does it make any difference in the world? Probably not, but then, I am only one person. What matters is what everyone else is doing, and I can only be responsible for my own actions and for trying to help those around me who are being exploited, though they may be completely ignorant of it themselves. The job of ending exploitation would be far easier if the slaves only knew they were slaves.

  35. Turnip greens

    Thad:

    “However, when I am looking for renters, I am purposely going to seek out only those types of renters”

    Wow, I hope you realize that you can not legally DISCRIMINATE by looking for “those types of renters”

    There are strict laws which govern discrimination and also rentals. I would suggest that you thoroughly familiarize yourself with them before making the decision to knowingly become a “landlord”. Otherwise, you might later become surprised at the laws.

  36. Thanks, Mr. Turnip, but I think I’ll be okay. One cannot discriminate based on race, age, gender, religion, etc. I don’t think judging a renter’s fit with a rental that is based on his or her particular needs is going to land me in court. But I understand you were just being facetious

  37. tacostacos

    A few comments:

    The pricing of the product is completely inconsequential to whether or not the company is “ethical.” The market for the product and the company cash flow determine the price points.

    Of course “local” doesn’t mean “ethical” – however shopping locally can certainly indicate greater sustainability and a create a more stable local economy.

    As far as the idea that small business owners are somehow ivory tower dwellers who don’t get their hands dirty… well, that’s simply absurd. The vast majority of small businesses are made of of single proprietors or very very small staffs of employees. Are you referring to large local businesses like Ingles? There isn’t a whole lot of industry like that in the region.

    More to the point of the Buchi case, the only way to determine whether or not they were unethical in their dealings with JE or their employees is to know whether they were deceptive in their practices or merely ignorant. Ignorance doesn’t clear them of legal culpability, but it doesn’t make them unethical either.

    The writer here is correct, in theory, that local doesn’t necessarily equal ethical. I do think that local business owners of small businesses are much more likely to run an ethical organization because they interact directly with their employees and their customers/clients. There is no coporate office to hide in.

    I love the small businesses here in Asheville. I run one myself and I am very proud of the community that we have here. If you would prefer to shop exclusively at WalMart and eat at TGIFridays, you are more than welcome to head to Charlotte. Personally, I’ll take our interesting, funky, unique shops.

  38. bill smith

    [i]As far as the idea that small business owners are somehow ivory tower dwellers who don’t get their hands dirty… well, that’s simply absurd. [/i]

    That is indeed the straw-man this entire letter and thread fails to address. I mentioned it many posts up, but no one bothered to adress it, likely since it was inconvenient and on-topic.

    Who thinks local business implies anything other than local business? I have yet to meet these people who think it implies ‘ethical’, or covered-in-rainbows, or non-profit, or whatever bizarre claims the letter writer purports to dispell.

  39. I have two questions for someone who has some knowledge about economics:
    Can you please explain to me how “local” is better?
    Can you please explain to me how local is more sustainable?

  40. tacostacos

    Local dollars stay local. The local business employs local employees, pays rent to a local landlord. The local business owner uses his money to purchase food at local stores, gas at nearby gas stations, etc. etc. Thusly, buying local keeps the money in local circulation. 30% more of the money stays within the nearby community.

    Additionally, here in Asheville, we have the opportunity to bring outside money in through the tourism industry. Lots of people come on vacation here and spend obscene amounts of money. If the dollars they spend here stay here, that’s economic growth.

    Here, if you want studies, click here and you get your pick. http://www.buylocalberkeley.com/node/36

    As far as “more sustainable” – it’s a question of how you define sustainability. I would suggest it’s more stable, at the least. If Best Buy or Wal-Mart or Bank of America stock tanks and the corporate offices go bankrupt, small business communities are much better equipped to weather the storm.

    For contrast, look at what has happened to Detroit in the aftermath of the plunging car industry. Or drive down the road to Charlotte to see how the banking industry is doing.

    Small business simply isn’t as prone to either bust or boon. Smaller numbers, less risks, fewer bubbles.

  41. @tacostacos:
    Thanks, but I still don’t follow a few points: Asheville’s tourism industry is made possible by people in other cities who are not shopping locally. How does that square? And if small, local businesses can weather economic downturns so well, why have large corporate chain-stores survived the recent economic downturn when many small businesses in Asheville didn’t?

  42. bill smith

    @Thad–The point is that, until we have real alternatives to what you deem ‘capitalism’, keeping our dollars ‘local’ is a far, far better approach than spending at places that tend to send our dollars far away from our region.

    Yes, we need to move beyond merely localized versions that cater to a consumerism that is still linked to larger problems of globalized ‘capitalism’, but it seems far more reasonable to me to work with those providing a reasonable alternative in the meantime.

    And for this notion that ‘local’ implies anything other a better chance your currency stays within your community, and perhaps a more direct connection to those making decisions above the employee level… that just seems like a misnomer akin to thinking ‘organic’ implies ‘hand=-tended by Buddhist monks’. As you say; ‘it’s ‘still capitalism’.

    In short, if I have to buy something (and invariably I do as I participate in this flawed world), I’d rather do it at a business that is at least keeping a portion of that cash in the community in which I plan to live for a while to come.

    Now, we should probably still be having a conversation about consumerism, but I’m learning to figure out where to draw those lines in my own life while still being compatible with this world. I’d love to see an entirely localized, sustainable economy where we didn’t rely on subsidized food and gas, and lining the pockets of BofA, but I doubt it efficient to throw out the baby with the bathwater as we renovate our world.

    As for tacos’ point about small businesses weathering the storm better, I can’t agree. Clearly they don’t, for the reasons you list.

  43. tacostacos

    Perhaps it was a poor choice of words. What I intended to articulate was that a community of small interdependent businesses isn’t as susceptible to stock market failure, tech booms and busts, etc.

    Additionally, precisely because we are a tourist destination, out local economy gets outside money introduced on a regular basis. When the global economy is good, those tourists come from Germany, Japan, what have you. When the global economy is down, those dollars come from Charlotte, Atlanta, NYC.

    Anyway, I am happy to toot the horn of small business all day long – I’m a huge believer in the many benefits for both workers and consumers in comparison to big box stores. But, this thread is about any ethical benefit to local business, so I will have to discuss this with Thad another day I suppose.

    Is it more ethical to shop at a store owned by someone local even if it might be pricier? No. But it is more neighborly.

  44. sharpleycladd

    I’m convinced by Thad’s arguments and plan to shut down the businesses I spend 70+ hours a week running, lay off the 15 people I’m apparently exploiting, and get me a job doing some injection molding, as long as the bennies are good and I don’t have to clap eyes on the owners.

  45. Pete Smith

    Everyone has a right to build capital.

    If you want to frame it as a free meeting space, the ability to help people in need, or to sell vegan sandwiches that is fine.

    If you want to take the risk of investing in your own company, producing a product or service, and employing others, that is fine too.

    Either way you are working to increase capital, social or financial, to further your goals.

    Taking a so-called moral position based on emotion and conjecture against ALL businesses who don’t operate according to your strict rules is unfair. It is also a form of violence of which you need to be aware of, think about, and refrain from.

    You guys at Firestorm are doing a commendable job both economically and socially. Your ability to bring money closer to the ground where you live and work is exceptional, and a model for ethical business practices everywhere.

    But right now your tone of belligerence is unsettling. Stop trying to sell everyone on how good you are … Most of us already know it, so please stop the posturing and attacking. Let the involved parties in this get back to work, give them time to heal, and get back to enriching the people around you.

  46. bill smith

    I am still waiting to hear who ever postulated that ‘local’ implies ‘ethical’, as the letter-writer implies.

    Also, I will likely never go to firestorm after reading some of the ‘owner’s’ comments in these threads.

  47. DK

    Buy local this yadda yadda, don’t support big business because local supports the economy yadda yadda blah blah blah. Maybe if there were more national or international companies based here, all of this would be a non-issue? Too bad it’s been made so hard for this to happen.

    Walmart aside (we have enough of those), next time a large business wants to locate something here, or even house its HQ here, do everyone a favor and don’t fight it, please?

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