Tin of Cocoa

If the raw materials for making cocoa are obtained from plantations on the West coast of Africa which use some form of forced native labour, are carried by vessels on sea routes monopolised or controlled by violence, manufactured in England with sweated labor and brought to India under favourable customs duties enforced by political power, then a buyer of a tin of cocoa patronises the forced labour conditions in the West coast of Africa, utilizes the navy and so partakes in violence, gains by the low wages or bad conditions of workers in England and takes advantage of the political subjection of India. All this responsibility and more also is put into a little tin of cocoa.

– J.C. Kumarappa

J. C. Kumarappa’s Why the Village Movement (quoted above) provides one of the most compelling arguments for local economies.

Born in India in 1892, he studied accounting in Britain and later economics at Syracuse and Columbia Universities in the U.S. He returned to India to become a professor of economics and a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi led a revolution in India against British control.  It was a peaceful, people’s revolution built on many small acts of economic local empowerment.

J. C. Kumarappa gave voice to these small acts.  He wrote in a way that spoke to those living in the millions of villages throughout India, using images from their daily lives.  His words continue to speak to us today as we face an ever more impersonal global economy diminishing the influence of place-based economies.

Again from Why the Village Movement:

Consumer’s Duties

Often buyers are only concerned with satisfying their own requirements as near as possible and as cheaply as they can.  This way of going about one’s business is to shirk one’s duties.  What are the duties of an efficient consumer or buyer? When buying an article of everyday use one has to take account of the full repercussions of one’s transaction.

1. One should know where the article comes from
2. Who makes the article?
3. From what animal?
4. Under what conditions do the workers live and work?
5. What proportion of the final price do they get as wages?
6. How is the rest of the money distributed?
7. How is the article produced?
8. How does the industry fit into the national economy?
9. What relation has it to other nations?

If the buyer has to make her influence felt, the further afield she goes for her goods, the less will be the power of her influence at such distance, the less the chances of her information of the various points raised being accurate, and the less will be her personal interest.

Kumarappa made a profound impression on Fritz Schumacher.  In his classic essay “Buddhist Economics” he quotes extensively from Kumarappa’s Economy of Permanence A Quest for a Social Order Based on Nonviolence.  Though most of Kumarappa’s books are now out of print, the complete text of this latter may be read online thanks to the good work of Herman Daly and his students at the University of Maryland.