In part one, the thinking about our unpredictable economic future was laid out. We discussed how the centralization of production has created dangerous vulnerabilities in our society; how all our eggs are in a few fragile baskets. The weakness of and our dependency on long complex supply chains for food, energy, and other goods and services were highlighted. The point was made that no one family can prepare enough to thrive and to meet all their own needs if these supply chains fail. The proposed solution is to start--right now--building local group economies that will help participants now and in the uncertain future.
In this article, we will again define local group economies and flesh out the details and advantages they provide for families and individuals not just to survive, but to thrive in times of hardship. More specifics will be provided about how to build up your own local group economy. We will touch on how multiple local group economies can begin to work with each other to form a robust economic network. And while local group economies offer many life-saving benefits, we will discuss some of the limitations to this model.
Local group economies - groups of local people who organize symbiotically to leverage their diversification of skills and production for the enrichment of the group today and in the unpredictable future.
In plain English, local group economies are composed of people who agree to do business with each other now and in the future to assure a local source for goods and services.
An example: One person has a few goats and enjoys working with them to create milk, meat and cheese but detests working on cars. Another person loves mechanical work, and yet another really enjoys chickens. If the mechanic and the chicken farmer agree to get milk and cheese from the goat farmer, then the goat farmer has a reason to raise more goats. In return the goat farmer agrees that the mechanic will be his/her go to repair person when things break down. The chicken farmer is glad to focus more on chickens and less on needs provided by the goat farmer and mechanic and provides eggs, meat, and feathers to the group. Three families that had three hobbies now each have a small business, and just as importantly, they have friendships that will grow as they purchase or trade goods with each other. Add in more local people who work to provide other resources, and a local group economy grows and begins to be a robust resource for enjoying enhanced community now and weathering tough times in the future.
There are countless advantages to this system. On the macro level, those in the local group economy now have a source of goods and services that does not depend on the long, centralized and fragile supply chains. If the three-day supply of food at the grocery store runs out, then they can still go to each other. And while local group economies use dollars now to trade their goods and services, if high inflation rates render the dollar less and less valuable, those in local group economies can still trade with each other without using dollars. This defense against inflation will provide enormous benefits in a weakening economy. Again, on the macro level, these community businesses create jobs and robust, smaller scale economies that do not depend on corporations, the government, or large banking systems to thrive. For more information on this, see my articles on the corporate and economic challenges of our day.
On the micro level, local group economies allow people to leverage doing the things they already enjoy to provide for a larger group. As already pointed out, this can provide the resources to allow for scaling up one’s hobby to a more efficient level. But more importantly, since the people in the group have committed to sourcing their needs from each other whenever it is reasonable, they have planted the seeds of friendship and local community. Rather than going to the supermarket to mingle with strangers to buy low-quality foods from unknown sources, now people go to those they know in the community and develop friendships, get food or services at inflation resistant prices, and from people and farms that they know something about. This also creates accountability. If the chicken farmer starts providing eggs using non-sustainable or unhealthy practices, the mechanic can offer some encouragement to stick to practices that are best for people, chickens, and the environment. If the chicken farmer refuses, then the group can opt to find a more responsible source for their poultry products. And on the other side of the coin, because people interact periodically, they will find opportunities to help out with other needs. These needs can be met out of friendship or can become the beginnings of new micro-businesses.
The community that develops out of local group economies brings us back to what it means to be human. Entire books could be written on the benefits of this community. Think briefly on the joy, accountability, protection, support provided during tough times, culture, and encouragement such a community provides. There is strength in numbers and diversity.
In Part 1, I presented initial steps to take to start forming your own local group economy. The first step is to make a list of needs. The next step is to find people in the local community that are already in a position to start meeting those needs. Meet together and discuss the concept of local group economies to this initial group. No need to talk doom and gloom. Rather, present the advantages of local produce and services. You will find that some attach to the idea readily. Those who do not may come around when they see the advantages developing in the local group economy over time. No high-pressure sales pitch or coercion should ever be used. Once the group starts developing, others and newcomers to the group will know new people who can meet needs not already being addressed. By inviting these people to make a moderate commitment to the group, the local group economy grows and becomes more robust.
The below is a short list of local group economy “positions” to address. Prioritize this list for your needs and your area, and add to it as other requirements become obvious.
Dairy – milk, cheese, butter, cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, ice cream
Poultry -- eggs, chicken, feathers, fertilizer
Meat – beef, sheep, goat, etc.
Fruit & vegetables
Grains – corn, millet, sorghum, wheat
Sweeteners –Honey, molasses, maple syrup, sugar
Toiletries – soap, TP, shampoo, etc.
Feed for livestock & pets
Beer & wine
Fuel – ethanol, solar, wind, firewood, etc.
The local group also needs to address the dynamics that naturally develop when people start doing business with each other. For instance, just because a group of people have agreed to provide for each other does not justify local group monopolies. Allegiance to a provider of goods or services is something that is earned by quality products and fair pricing. While it may be difficult initially to “beat” the supermarket prices in your local group, for economics to work people have to know they have the liberty to choose where they shop. This means that the people in the group have to realize the advantages to doing business in their local group that reach beyond mere price. Quality and community must be paramount. So when people commit to a local group economy, they are not committing to exclusive monopolies but rather they are committing to community, quality, safety, sustainability, and the subtle accountability these groups provide.
Disagreements will of course develop, too. And it is unlikely that firm rules governing the group will settle such issues in a way that benefits the group long term. People must be respectful of one another and realize that their rights to live how they want go only so far as they are not infringing on the rights of others to do the same. And strong friendships and sense of community will be the glue that will help get the group through the times of disagreement. People should always have the right to vote with their feet. If the goals for liberty, community, and independence from fragile supply chains remain the focus, then disagreements should be readily resolved. Clearly, a spirit of forgiveness and love must be a part of any healthy community. If people are causing any sort of harm to others, then it is only decent that other people take their business elsewhere.
What about competition inside of a local group economy? What if there are five chicken farmers and no one wants to milk goats? In such cases, one would argue that the group was not well planned. But competition in the group will be healthy once the group has critical mass. If there are two chicken farmers, then they will naturally compete to provide the best products at the best prices using the best methods. They can also cooperate to learn better ideas from each other. And at this scale, it is likely that one chicken farmer will not be able to keep up with the needs of a local group economy. Keep in mind that people will always continue to sell their products outside of the group. The groups are simply commitments that the members will go to each other for goods and services whenever possible and reasonable. Again, they are not little monopoly contracts.
This may sound a little too utopian. I admit that I have packaged it tending in that direction. So here is a dose of reality. People, you will need to be adults for this to work. Selfish, childish people are not qualified to be a part of this. If you tend toward discord, if you prefer to disparage others, if you are prone to gossip and slander, then you are not cut out to participate in local group economies. It is time for you to get over yourself. Really. If you think you have to rule over others to be complete, then you have failed to attain to what it means to be truly human. I applaud people who are willing to work hard to achieve their dreams. I root for those that succeed financially and more so those who succeed in the truer riches of joy and happiness. But if you think that your success will come at the expense of others through dishonesty, theft, taxation, control, usury, or discrimination, then you have no part in local group economies. Go find out what it means to be the man or woman that you can look up to. It is time to grow up.
How can local group economies work together?
Every local group economy will develop based on the skills, interests and needs of the people involved. As a result, every local group economy is somewhat unique. There will be times when it makes more sense for groups to cooperate to meet needs. These overlapping groups have advantages of opening up new markets for the products provided by individuals or families in the groups. The key is to keep the groups local enough that long supply chains DO NOT develop. Remember the advantages of local group economies are that they can function, as much as is possible, independently from these supply chains and that they foster a strong sense of community. For these reasons, keeping local group economies local is essential.
That said, as long as a local group does not begin to depend on a fragile supply chain, there will be advantages to doing business with other groups. One of the key players in your local group may be the person that brings these outside resources into the group. And if your group has an over-supply of one type of good, then this person may be in a position to make those goods available to other groups. But the key initially is to keep your group local.
Limitations to local group economies
There are some limitations to local group economies. It is not likely that a local group economy will provide electricity to its members. But it is possible for members to help each other with wind and solar power generation. It is even less likely that a local group will pump crude oil out of the ground and manufacture gasoline, diesel, tar and plastics. But the local group may have a farmer who makes ethanol or a person who manufactures bio-diesel. The local group cannot provide for national defense, but there can be local defense against criminal factions. And the resulting economic growth and opportunity that are fostered by local group economies can reduce crime. Just knowing the people in your community reduces crime. And local group economies will not likely provide socialized medicine. But they can provide affordable doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, nutritionists, optometrists, midwives, and caring friends that help out in the tough times.
The goal of a local group economy is not to provide for every need. But the goal should be to provide for enough needs that participants can grow great community and thrive during economic hardships.
And now for the biggest limitation of local group economies…. Our current laws of the land regarding food, taxes, environmental protection, and property zoning (to name a few) can make providing for each other in local group economies rather difficult. I make no attempt here of explaining how to participate in accordance with federal, state, county, and city regulations. I am not a lawyer. Nor do I work for the state or federal departments of revenue. There are even laws about how to pay taxes on bartered gains. These rules and regulations make it very challenging to independently care for one’s family and for one’s community. You will need to know what rules govern your production. Each individual will need to be comfortable with how he/she addresses the current regulations that apply to his/her craft. I offer no advice other than to avoid making a target out of your community. And participating in a local group economy, building community, and contributing to the economic stability of our nation will certainly make people aware of the undue oppression that is enforced in our society. Awareness can be a positive thing.
I urge you to start your local group economy right away. Prioritize the list of needs provided above and add your own to the list. Explore what you might contribute. Then reach out to others with the concept. As local group economies grow in popularity and number, so does our security, our community, our stability, our resourcefulness, our sustainability, our tenacity, our ability to weather tough times, and most importantly, our understanding of what it means to be human.
Oh, and don’t forget your 180 Stove for your bug out bag (www.180tack.com). That is one item I can provide for my local group economy! Ha!