If our common interest is to build more independent regions and their unique regional cultures, then part of that effort will be to build more independent regional economies—ones in which the goods consumed locally are produced locally.
In her Cities and the Wealth of Nations, the late Jane Jacobs brilliantly argues that the best strategy for economic development is to generate import-replacement industries. She would have us examine what is now imported into a region and develop the conditions to instead produce those products from local resources with local labor. Unlike the branch of a multi-national corporation that might open and then suddenly close, driven by moody fluctuations in the global economy, a locally owned and managed business is more likely to establish a complex of economic and social interactions that build strong entwining regional roots, keeping the business in place and accountable to people, land, and community.
What then is the responsibility of concerned citizens to help build sustainable regional economies?
An independent regional economy calls for new regional economic institutions for land, labor, and capital to embody the scale, our endeavors. These new institutions cannot be government-driven, and rightly so. They will be shaped by free associations of consumers and producers, working cooperatively, sharing the risk in creating an economy that reflects shared culture and shared values. Small in scale, transparent in structure, designed to profit the community rather than profit from the community, they can address our common concern for safe and fair working conditions; for production practices that keep our air and soil and waters clean, renewing our natural resources rather than depleting them; for innovation in the making and distribution of the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and energy rather than luxury items; and for more equitable distribution of wealth.
Building of new economic institutions is hard work. Most of us rest complacently in our role as passive consumers, not co-producers and co-shapers of our own economies. But it is work that can be done, and fine beginnings are being made in the development of local currencies, community supported farms, regionally based equity and loan funds, worker-owned businesses, community land trusts, and business alliances for local living economies.
These initiatives are motivated by the affection that the citizens of a region have for their neighbors and neighborhoods; for the fields, forests, mountains, and rivers of their landscapes; for the local history and culture that binds these all together; and for their common future.
We encourage you to join regional economic projects in your own communities or create them anew. Inventory the multitude of human, natural, and financial resources available for local production. Support existing businesses. Share information. Apply the genius of local knowledge to shape new enterprises. Celebrate successes.
On Saturday, September 20th BerkShares local currency will celebrate the two millionth BerkShare exchanged at one of our five participating banks with the Second Annual BerkShares Bash. Featuring some of the Berkshire businesses that define the program and our local economy, the event is scheduled for 1-5 PM on the front lawn of the John Dewey Academy at the historic Searles Castle, Main Street, Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Admission is 5 BerkShares. Kids 12 and under are free. Delight in local musicians, yummy food, fine crafts, Roger the Jester, face-painting, stilt walking, neighbors and friends. Bring the family, a picnic basket, a blanket for sitting, extra BerkShares for treats, and the expectation of a great time.