Friday, November 26, 2010

Was Small Beautiful Saturday?

Well, this is disappointing. I had drafted this post on Friday morning, but got distracted by some family responsibilities and never posted. Still, I imagine the point remains. Let me know.
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If you are reading this blog you are likely not the type to set the alarm for early shopping on Black Friday. Don't get me wrong, I have several family members who queued up before the sun had a chance to rise. Who knows, one of their bargains under the tree might even have my name on it!

But my assumption is that readers like you are not compelled to shop for shopping sake. You are probably using some of this holiday season to consider how best to use your economic power. Maybe like me you were intrigued by the advertisements for the “Small Business Saturday” encouraging consumers to back off from Black Friday and use the Saturday after Thanksgiving as a
day to support “the shops and restaurants that employ our neighbors and reinvest our money close to home. The businesses that are the heartbeat of our communities and local economies.”

Support local economies?
Wow that sounds like a call from E.F. Schumacher of Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, a primer for many Fair Traders. Or maybe a new campaign of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, BALLE? Slowing down from the post-turkey frenzy to choose businesses carefully—ones that would not only offer good deals but also good business models—sounds right up my alley. Imagine my surprise when my Google-based research led me to American Express. A credit card company was promoting small businesses. Not just any credit card company, “the world’s largest card issuer, the premium network for high-spending cardmembers, a processor of millions of transactions daily, and a partner that provides business-building services to a worldwide merchant base.” Full disclosure: I am an American Express cardholder so I’m not here to attack a multinational corporation. But the big guys promoting the little ones—which I hope includes the dozens of members of the Fair Trade Federation—seems like a little bit of a disconnect.

It puts me in mind of a CSR newswire blog noting that Monsanto—a huge business in the agriculture industry--is part of the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative that works, in part, to help small-scale farmers. Many could argue that Monsanto’s entire business model is predicated on shifting from "small is beautiful" agriculture to "big is better" approaches.

In this space I can’t do these kinds of debates justice, mind you. I just offer up these contradictions as a bit of a “speed bump” to slow things down a bit. As we jump into the seasonal mania that revolves around what we eat and what we buy, rather far field from the traditions of gratitude giving and the holy rituals of Hanukkah and Christmas, let’s pause a bit to consider who is shaping our impulses, who is offering us alternatives, and what kind of economy—local or otherwise—we want to contribute to.

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