Local & Global Economic Stability

By Michael Kramer

“Buying local” is very popular today. The produce is fresher and its producers more trusted. Shipping costs are lower, which means cost savings and less of contribution to global warming. While it would be difficult for Americans to provide for all their survival needs through local purchases, buying local enhances the capacity for money to circulate throughout the community numerous times before it leaves. This “multiplier effect” can create and maintain local jobs, and with local ownership, employees can receive better protections, consumers can obtain meaningful treatment, and the overall affect can be local self-reliance.

The fragility of local communities and bioregions requires special consideration of how money is used. Much attention is focused on the impact of major corporations on what have largely been locally-owned economies. While “buying local” does have the positive effect of circulating money locally before profits leak away, the lower prices found at national retailers are changing customer loyalties. Ethical issues further complicate consumer choices. For example, is it more socially responsible to buy local, conventionally-raised eggs or cage-free, hormone-free, organic eggs from elsewhere that cost more? Is it better to buy lumber from Home Depot, which has a policy against selling old-growth timber, or from a locally-owned company with no such policy?

Shifting to local consumption patterns certainly would reduce the cost of many goods, but only if local businesses heed the social and environmental consequences of these processes. Most Americans lack the proper information to make informed choices in this realm, and these choices are subjective and can be fairly complicated. This is why it’s important to evaluate the source of all our purchases to be sure that the social, environmental, and governance practices of the company are of the highest possible ethical standards.

Community investing is an important corollary to buying local. One of the most popular ways to invest in sustainability is by opening an account at a community development bank or credit union. Most investors open money market accounts or certificates of deposits.  Checking and savings accounts also may be provided through community development financial institutions, which will use deposits to strengthen the local community. These banks, credit unions, loan funds, and venture capital programs provide access to credit, equity, capital, and basic banking products that people and communities would otherwise not have. This supplies capital for small businesses and vital community services, such as child care, affordable housing, and healthcare. Examples in California are Mission Community Bank, People’s Self Help Corporation, Lenders for Community Development, Low Income Investment Fund, OneUnited Bank, and Santa Cruz Community Credit Union.

Some community investment institutions also have an environmental agenda. For example, the Permaculture Credit Union offers sustainability loans and a discount initiative for cars with higher fuel efficiency standards.

There are also national loan funds, microfinance intermediaries, and social enterprise initiatives that are focused on local economic development.  Community Reinvestment Fund supports low-income enterprise development nationwide, while Count Me In invests in women-owned small businesses enterprises. Enterprise Community Partners and Mercy Loan Fund create affordable housing, while the Rural Assistance Corporation and Rural Community Assistance Corporation develop the health and non-profit infrastructure in the areas of housing, environment and community facilities.

For those who may wish to support local community development in numerous locales, the Calvert Foundation offers a Community Investment Note, a socially conscious bond that supports a wide array of community investment institutions worldwide. These notes support affordable housing, microcredit finance, and social enterprise.

Internationally, there are many institutions which channel funds specifically to low-income people in specific regions: the AFRICAP Fund targets Africa, AMRET serves Cambodia, and Banco Solidario brings hope to Ecuador. Global Microfinance Facility assists Peru, Grameen Fund aids Bangladesh, KWAY Organic Coffee Farmers Cooperative, Ltd.  Supports Papua New Guinea, and the Microfund for Women is operating in Jordan. E & Co (public-private energy/water/forestation in the developing world. E & Co is a public-private partnership involving the United Nations that uses investment capital to support sustainable energy, water, and reforestation efforts in the developing world.

The Public Radio Fund, established by the Calvert Foundation, the Ford Foundation and Public Radio Capital, is an example of a social enterprise project with the aim of purchasing public radio stations in order to keep them independent in local public community control.  Check out www.ussif.org/communityinvesting to find a community development financial institution that suits your interests.

Money has no inherent value. If people so choose, money can be a powerful force for social and environmental change in this country and throughout the world. The choice is ours.
For more information on localization, contact the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, City Repair, Sustainability Indicators Network, the People-Centered Development Forum, and the International Forum on Globalization, the 10th Bioregional Congress, the Alliance for Post-Petroleum Local Economics, the Post-Carbon Institute, and the Relocalization Network.

Contact Michael to discuss this topic.

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