I’ve been tossing a notion around for some time now and it is something that comes up in the public discussion every now and then. Up until this point I had really limited it to the food industry but after reading an article about small local banks experiencing very healthy increases in deposit customers I realized that there must be something more profound going on.
Big business, big risks
For decades we have talked about the impact globalization has had on society, political affairs and economics around the globe. The range of opinions about this phenomenon are as varied and numbered as the impacts. Often Globalization gets tied to outsourcing and, depending on whether you are a savvy business person or an ambitious politician, it signifies the creation of competitive advantage or the loss of many jobs.
It has also found itself as the centerpiece of a merger or acquisition strategy for a large business that needs to ‘compete on a global scale’. Globalization also receives credit, rightfully so, for the creation of a new more advanced global economy where integration and a shared sense of fate are its underpinning. But there is something else that Globalization has done which may bring with it a new set of risks.
Only as strong as the weakest link
Globalization has, at least in the public discussion, subordinated the importance of the local economy and small business to macroeconomic initiatives and large enterprises. I have no intention of meaning this as a blanket statement but only to describe the extent to which we have operationalized globalization into our social, political and economic models. The risk of glazing over the details and focusing on the forest is that we are unable to see if the trees are rotting from within.
Take our current situation, where one large institution after another has failed, gone under or is in the process of going under. We can also ponder over the real estate crisis and whether California, Florida and Nevada where signs of a distressed forest. The inherent risk of this flawed perspective is that risk itself is magnified. Whereas mergers and consolidations were viewed as positives for the customer and business the unintended consequence and therefore risk to society was that a failure would sting that much more.
All economics is local
I think ‘Tip’ O’Neill was onto something when he said that “all politics is local”. That statement could easily be tweaked to say the same for economics and evolution – I will get back to the evolution part later. There are some products and services that just have no business being brought in from anywhere other than the local community.
Take for example food from the grocery store. With the exception of those foods that require specific geographic characteristics most fresh foods could be produced within close proximity to its customer base. There are several advantages to the customer, business and economy from maintaining a close relationship between the food we eat and our community. This form of food patriotism is among other ways to achieve better sustainability.
Another trend that is becoming prevalent in today’s economic climate and ties back to the local economy is community banking. Local banks are benefiting directly from the lack of confidence in large banking institutions. In fact many are seeing double digit increases in new deposit accounts as a result. Local banks, which tend to have more established and personal relationships with their customers, have the advantage of knowing their customer and what their needs are. The risk of lending can be further reduced because the banker has a more intimate knowledge of the business, its risks and, most importantly, the principal asking for the money.
Survival of the fittest
This is an aside but I mentioned evolution earlier and wanted to take this opportunity to throw organized labor under the bus. The fundamental idea behind organized labor has always irked me, as it seems to fly in the face of evolution. There are some things in life that we simply cannot control and must either adapt to or die from it. Organized labor, for the most part, has fought progress only to stave off the inevitable. Not only does this intransigence make it difficult for a business to operate competitively but it poses a significant risk to a community when this mentality pervades its labor force.
Some communities in Michigan are looking how to offset the effect of job lossess as a result of failing auto companies. In deed some of these small cities face serious problems as their largest employer is on the brink of failure. Their precarious situation presents an opportunity for adaptation to the reality of the marketplace for labor. While some communities are working to bring other major employers to the area they will face a major obstacle. Until the business community sees a fundamental capitulation in the trend for labor to organize these communities will face an uphill battle – let me rephrase that, they will have to scale a near vertical mountain on a rainy day with only a tattered old 1/4 inch nylon rope. Good luck, I am sure that you all can organize into a tall human chain with the prospect of getting at least one of you to the top, but then you will spend an eternity arguing why YOU should not be the one on the bottom.