Local economy, relying on Christian concepts, will save city amid debacle

The fruit stand for which this sign is displayed competes against national chains such as Wal-Mart (just down the road on Signal Mountain Boulevard) and Bi-Lo.

By David Tulis

The business crisis that beset a Chattanooga pet supply store last week is a heart-warming illustration of the virtues of local economy. Facing a back-tax deadline of Thursday afternoon, loyal customers of Pet Care Warehouse in Hixson bought enough seed, feed and pet geegaws to rescue the family-run outlet.

Local economy is a concept big enough to save not just one business, but a city, especially in light of the debacle coming over the national debt. The concept of local food has caught on here. The larger concept of local economy is not far behind, waiting to be consciously developed.

ONE REASON LOCAL ECONOMY should be an idea on every local tongue is that it is not political. The closer our thoughts go toward Washington or Nashville, the more we are trapped into politics. We fall into old-fogey categories. Democrat vs. Republican, conservative vs. liberal. If politics have led to national ruin, do we expect politics to prevent it or make repairs afterward? The solution to insolvency in national economy is not an election and a new law.

It is a locally oriented free market.

Uncle Sam’s obligations are at $222 trillion. He faces default. Trying to head off the disaster among numerous Western capitals, the Fed and other central banks have launched an inflation. Inflation, which erodes the value of the national currency, hurts the commoner next door, as Carey O’Neil indicated recently on the business pages (“Losing Interest?” Sept. 23). Inflation is a form of debt repudiation.

Local economy rests on the premise of localism. It centers on the city. It is, for Chattanooga Times Free Press readers, Noogacentric. Human nature makes everyone, to some extent, a provincialist. In the provincialist perspective, local is better than remote. Small beats big. Personal is better than corporate. In keeping things small, one hires a neighbor or the man from church. One avoids having to use software to make hiring decisions. Self-determination we like, rules by outsiders we don’t.

Local economy is an idea that could receive nods from all sorts of people who otherwise are rivals. Greens like local economy’s smaller carbon footprint. Libertarians love its confidence in market players. Democrats see its intimacy and community. Republicans like its distrust of government.

LOCAL ECONOMY makes the most of Americans’ genius for service and imagination. One way I like to explain free markets is to mention Christianity, one of true capitalism’s primary sources. Christ died for his enemies; he saved the other. His putting others ahead of himself is an act of compassion and imagination. Capitalism allows for exercise of the same grace. A capitalist who fails to think first of the other — his customer — will fail.

If local economy has a slogan, it’s “love your neighbor — shop local.” The discredit of the national economy and a federal bankruptcy crisis will drive localities to their internal resources. The next meltdown will encourage people to make a deliberate choice to favor local economy over national. As Uncle scales back, recipients of his generosity will rely on family and personal resources.

The Wall Street Journal says we have one of the strongest local economies in the U.S. Its strength will help ease the return to reality during the meltdown, and bring relief amid widespread pain that, if not always intense, will be chronic — perhaps for decades.

This text first appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Oct. 5, 2012. Used by permission.