The North Sea. Photo by Captain Tim.
Spend? Save? It turns out that economist John Maynard Keynes came up with a name for the quandary I am in about saving, spending, and an economy we are watching slip beneath the waves faster than a melting glacier. He called it the Paradox of Thrift.
The Paradox goes like this: if I save money, reduce spending, and pay down debt, I am doing what seems good for me individually, in a stormy economy. But my retreat, Keynes tells me, can actually be bad for the larger economy: if we all respond in the same way, demand will fall, production will slow, and recession will take over.
Now I am no economist – just ask my dear Amy. But I have arrived at the conclusion that perhaps the Paradox of Thrift could represent an opportunity to induce some much needed economic change. And as I snooped around for advice, I found that some economists actually agree with me. Or should I say that I found I agree with some economists?
The solution to the Paradox is to demand, consume and produce the local and renewable. Keep whatever shrinking wealth we might have within sight, build local economic muscles, protect local jobs, and begin to construct a sustainable region and home place.
For example, (as I have been wondering, endlessly) what if we could buy enough local food, in quality, quantity and diversity, to sustain us? What if we didn’t have to purchase edibles from halfway across the globe, or the nation? We would save energy, cut pollution, create jobs, and simultaneously change the landscape of our regions. You know, farms for malls – that kind of thing.
We try to buy local at our neighborhood public market, but the supply of local produce and meats is pretty thin. There are a few organic produce farmers on weekends, but that’s about it. Eastern Market is a wonderful place to visit, an important historic resource, and a true and beloved Capitol Hill asset. But as for the food you can purchase there, it’s not much better (and is more expensive) than the nasty Safeway down the street. I suppose we could do better if we had a car….
And what if, as I ask endlessly, our energy came from local and renewable sources? We could start a municipal composting program, reduce our waste, provide fertilizers for a now-burgeoning regional agricultural industry, and use the biomass of the compost to generate power. Here in Washington only 4% of our electricity comes from renewable sources. Solar? 0%. Wind? .5%. Solid waste – burning waste products, mostly paper, to generate steam to turn turbines? 1.4%. And biomass? .2%.
The local power company, PEPCO, is scrambling to increase power available from local, renewable sources. They have said that they want nearly 10% of Washington’s power to come from renewables by 2020. Not at all great, but a tiny start.
Maybe we can outflank the Paradox, and Keynes. Perhaps we can channel all of our purchases, and demands, into local resources. First, I guess, we’ll need to learn what local resources we have – we’ll need some kind of an inventory. I don’t really know much about my choices. I can turn on the radio or TV and find out where to buy a Toyota, but as for products grown or constructed in the city, or region, there’s not much guidance available.
Oh, I can surf to find out where to buy half a cow, or a bushel of organic potatoes. There’s plenty of information available, just no system that makes sense of the information. At the moment, the connections between local goods and local consumers relies on individual resourcefulness.
One next step might be to make these connections strong, obvious, inevitable, permanent. Why can’t I walk into any local store and find the best products from local sources? Why do I have to go on a reconnaissance mission to find a grass fed pork chop? What if we made local and regional stuff the stuff that’s on the shelves in our neighborhood supermarket, or hardware? If we demand it, and then purchase it, this might happen.
Ahhh – a sea of opportunity, aswirl in a Paradox. Stormy, maybe. But oceans of possibilities.