How do you build a just economy?

Murals in Malmo Sweden. Image credit Maria Eklind, Flickr Creative Commons

If President Trump is good for anything, it’s controlling the news cycle. Every day brings a new disaster to mull and worry about, and that’s how he likes it. The White House news cycle has largely replaced television in my life. Press banned from the briefing room, military on the border to meet asylum seekers, Ivanka’s emails. Real life is worse than some of the most farfetched plot lines a Hollywood writer could think up.

It’s strange that the economy is booming. I look at the stock market, the trade war with China, the threats to our European allies and the continued march of climate change impacts. What’s the economic impact of the Bay Area’s workers clearing out for over a week at a time to avoid noxious air? Something has got to give. Perhaps the recent lowered trading of tech stocks  is the harbinger of more to come.

Meanwhile local communities and local economies march on. My kid loves the lollipop she gets from the barber; my local Buy Nothing group thrives with neighbors who just relish in trading old furniture, opened milk and used clothes. And I think: this is where life thrives. THIS is where resilience happens. Locally. Small.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), 99.9 percent of all U.S. businesses are “small” (as defined by having 500 employees or less — still pretty big– but still). The SBA estimates there are 30.2 million small businesses employing a total of 58.9 million workers as of 2018. That’s huge! It’s 18 percent of the total US population and 38 percent of workers. Small business is absolutely a driver for a sustainable economy.

How? It all comes down to how we measure abundance and wealth. As a nation, we often utilize Gross Domestic Product, GDP, to measure economic activity. The problem is the good stuff gets counted with the bad. A car accident that totals a car and sends the inhabitants to the emergency room via ambulance boosts GDP. Hurricane damage from floods on the coast boost GDP. Fancy air mask purchases boost GDP. That doesn’t mean these things make us economically better off. And while they may make us safer, happier, healthier in the short term, they don’t improve our long term shot as a species.

The kind of value that benefits future generations is resilience — and that starts locally.

That is to say commerce is not bad. Commerce is great — the exchange of goods and services creates value for the buyer and the seller. It allows us all to diversify: I don’t need to spend all my time farming and making clothes to feed and clothe my family. And the need to create value — to sell something for more than it cost to produce — the competition of it all means consumers benefit most. Small businesses are especially adept at creating value because they immediately get customer feedback. If a product doesn’t create value, or doesn’t create value at a competitive price, it doesn’t move.

While small doesn’t necessarily mean just, it sure helps. It’s a lot more difficult to screw a worker whose family lives in your community. And if you screw him or her terribly, it’s probably going to hurt your business too.

By investing in small, local businesses, we can strengthen and make more resilient these local economies. And local doesn’t just have to be local to your town — small businesses thrive online: just take a look at Etsy and eBay. All consumers have the potential to support small businesses with their dollars. All we have to do is just spend a little less with the companies that largely benefited from the recent U.S. tax break and spent the money buying back shares. The only value that created was for the already wealthy shareholders. 

Those of us with business skills can do a little bit more. We can help those businesses grow with organizational management, strategic marketing services*, accounting, design and operations support. We can help them grow with the principals of sustainable management. If they grow and provide good jobs with fair wages while improving the environment, the whole world benefits.

B Corps is a great example of an organization that is building a just economy. (Disclosure: B Targeted is on track to receive Pending B Corp status soon and hopes to be a fully certified B Corporation in 2019). In addition to certifying organizations to a standard of sustainable practice, B Corp is singlehandedly building resilient network of just organizations. They support each other and buy from each other, which improves the economic outlook of every worker and every company in the network.

Where you spend your dollars matters whether you are buying towels as a consumer or business services as a business owner. Invest in the companies that share your values and the whole world will benefit.

*B Targeted specializes in helping values-based businesses grow with strategic marketing. If you would like help growing your business please reach out!

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