The thread of community building and economic partnership on a hyper local scale has been stitching itself into my life’s canvas over the past number of months. First, it was Epicurus on Happiness, who believes there are three things needed for happiness: friendship/community, self-reliance/freedom, and an examined life.
Recently, I read an interview with Judy Wicks, “owner and founder of Philadelphia’s 25-year-old White Dog Cafe, and a national leader in the local, living economies movement.” Wicks has a message that is brave, honest, and needed now perhaps more than ever. From The Sun magazine interview by David Kupfer:
Kupfer: What exactly is a “local living economy”?
Wicks: It’s an economy in which basic needs are produced close to home in ways that are sustainable and don’t harm the environment. This requires a cooperative mentality, because there’s no such thing as a stand-alone sustainable business — it must be part of a sustainable system. Individuals, or individual businesses, can’t provide for all our basic needs by themselves. We need a local food system, a local energy system, local clothing manufacturing, and green building methods. In the face of climate change and peak oil, our survival depends on community self-reliance.
In local living economies, goods we can’t produce at home, such as coffee or sugar or bananas, are traded for fairly, so that the exchange benefits both our community and the community where those products originate. We can still have a global economy, but it will be a network of thousands of sustainable local economies that trade in products that improve our quality of life. If we create products that are unique to our region — whether it’s a style of clothing, a type of cheese or wine, or a unique invention — they’ll be sought after in the global marketplace. So this movement is not anti-trade or antiglobalization; it’s about creating security at home and not depending on foreign trade for our basic needs.
Kupfer: The goal of traditional investment strategy is to maximize profits. Why are you working to change that?
Wicks: One reason that many people want a high return on their investment is that they’re afraid of not having enough money when they’re old. In indigenous societies, security in old age comes from the wealth of the community, not from individual income. If we felt secure in our communities, we wouldn’t be afraid of how we might end up. But our society often does not include elderly people in the community. We marginalize them. It’s no wonder we’re all afraid of being old and penniless. What could be worse in our society?
The alternative to the stock market is investing your money in your own community so that you receive a modest financial return and also a “living return,” which is the benefit of living in a more sustainable local economy and a healthier community. I made the decision to take all my money out of the stock market and put it into Philadelphia’s Reinvestment Fund. I get a straight financial return of between 4.5 and 5.5 percent, and the money I invest also benefits my community. For instance, it helped to finance the wind turbines that produce the electricity the White Dog Cafe buys. Money invested in the stock market, on the other hand, is just taken out of the community.
We’re taught that we’re suckers if we don’t make the highest profit or pay the lowest price. If you invest where you don’t make as much money, then you’re a loser. There’s no thought given to the effect our financial decisions have on the long-term well-being of our communities.
It is perfect mental and emotional preparation for my move to Portland. Having felt that my movements and thoughts are running completely against the tide here in the Lowcountry, I am eager to begin flowing with the river that is the Pacific Northwest. A culture that, in general, is interested in these concepts and supporting the local, living economies movement. The time for happiness, via building community, friendships, self-reliance, and some time to reflect on it, is now.