To start with, let’s go back to the previously mentioned point of buying locally grown food. To grow food on a small scale is incredibly cheap. Buying a packet of seeds costs almost nothing but from that, one could grow fifty tomato plants. Once the plants produce seeds, the process can begin again for free. The only other cost is human capital, or just plain work to plant them and look after them. Not much money to be made though. Individually speaking, maybe not but if fifty people in a district grew the tomatoes that are then bought in the local greengrocers and fifty other people grow the potatoes, etc. it all starts to take off. Obviously, again, the point is getting people together to form a group to manage all of this. This is called resilience, which is different to the concept of self-sufficiency. Rob Hopkins of the Transition Initiative explained that we can’t provide everything for ourselves. Your area might not have the climate to grow pineapples. Some things will always need to be imported but we should look at taking care of as many of our needs as we can.
If we can provide most of the important things for our own community, in the even of a national or international financial collapse, we should be able to say ‘Well, it doesn’t affect us, we can look after ourselves.’
But what about if someone decides to sell their produce more cheaply than their neighbour? This is the aspect of competition in business which is actually very damaging. So the next important principle to get across is that of collaboration. If people can agree to all sell their produce at a communally agreed price and that no-one is allowed to change the price (unless it is universally agreed) then there would not be the problem of competition.
The reason why competition is actually damaging is because if someone benefits from it (greater sales), a number of people going to suffer from it, which of course will cause unhappiness and economic instability in the community, i.e. community failure.
The people have to be all working from the same rule book. This is not dictatorial but about forming a consensus. It is about good organisation which the free market does not take into account. In the free market there is generally no problem for a big multinational supermarket to open a megastore where it wants to. It is very likely to have an adverse effect on the smaller businesses who can’t compete with the prices and we have seen in many countries how so many small businesses have had to close. This is unfair and the public should be able to vote on whether such a big shop should be allowed to be built in their community. This kind of initiative is being implemented in Stokes Croft in Bristol, England.
In the proposed sense described above, there would not be much of a free market but a regulated market which means better organisation so that the number of food shops, cafés, etc. would be planned so that they are not in competition with each other but they can all operate in their own locality. Imagine that in your district of 10,000 people there are enough shops of all kinds but not too many supermarkets which is what happens in the free market. They can’t all succeed. If there were 15 big supermarkets, probably only 3 of them would survive. But if there were 15 small food shops that sold as many locally produced items as possible, they could all thrive and the people who provide the products get to keep the money. It is a better way of balancing trade so that the money is just shifting between the people but always staying there. Yes, this sounds idealistic and it wouldn’t happen as purely as that but we can get closer to it happening by producing more things locally and not turning to the big companies that have taken over our spending patterns then made many of their workers redundant.
The People’s Supermarket is a great example of this idea in action. This is a supermarket that recently opened in London. Their mission statement reads as follows:
“Our vision is to create a commercially sustainable, social enterprise that achieves its growth and profitability targets whilst operating within values based on community development and cohesion. Our intent is to offer an alternative food buying network, by connecting an urban community with the local farming community.” Read more on their site