Viewpoints: The real, best reason we should ‘shop local’

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Michael T. Corrigan

BN Columnist

All politics is local, they say, so that means the best government is carried out by people you know. And we’d say the best capitalism is local, too. But economic policy tends not to reward local capitalism. Look around. The true old-time mom and pop stores are going, going, gone. Few towns have local bakeries anymore. Local cafes like Rick’s and the Morning Glory and Beth’s, where quality is on the menu, where you know the staff and they know you, are in a constant struggle to survive.

But, all is not lost. Did you know that America still has 60% of the world’s medium-sized manufacturing businesses? Look around. Most Lake Region contractors deal with Hancock Lumber and Brill Lumber because their employees, local people with long experience, actually speak the language of building, know their customers’ needs inside-out, and give a fair deal. Truly, the economic strength of the Lake Region remains its medium-sized, locally-owned and operated businesses: Howell Labs, Downeast, Dearborn, Moir, Hammond’s, Chalmers, Norway Savings, Evergreen Credit Union and so on — and some of these even serve national and, to some extent, international markets.

These often family-run businesses naturally tend to be a good deal more interested in the health, economy, people and mutual interests of western Maine than are the UltraMegaMart companies. Maine companies tend to offer good jobs for Maine people. Management lives in the community. Profits aren’t shipped off to Delaware or Arkansas, or hidden in offshore accounts. The local taxes they generate help them and everyone else in town. Their employees aren't on welfare. They are the only companies you will deal with that actually care about “customer service.” (In quotes here, because the multinationals never heard of it.)

But, the tendency in state and federal government the past three decades has been to give every break to the big guy, to under tax the biggest businesses and overtax the smallest ones, to boost the biggest on to profits-at-all-costs multi-nationalism. Corporate government loves corporate business; in fact, it’s become difficult to tell the two apart. But big government is demonstrably anti-small business. Get big or get out, that’s the message. Merge and purge. If only two businesses remain in a sector — Time Warner and Comcast, say — merge them into one! Then purge “excess” employees… Or consider our five national banks, all “too big to fail.” Really? Too big to fail is not capitalism, it’s corporate welfare. The message there is, risk whatever you want, boys, go crazy, the taxpayer will bail you out.

Maine should turn the multinational philosophy on its head; we have the independent business tradition to do so. The long-term dominance of the out-of-state textile and paper companies here, and their gradual abandonment of the state, masks the fact that we still boast hundreds of small, local businesses, producing everything from electronics to value-added wood products, businesses that prosper because they are well-run and offer a quality product, and that are not too big to care about their communities or their employees — or for their customers, for that matter. (Think. Aren’t you tired of being a “consumer?” Weren’t you happier as a “customer?”)

Our downtowns must also be supported and preserved: our local cafes, our Magic Lantern, the beauty shops, contractors, builders, electricians, gift shops, general stores, restaurants, health spas, studios, galleries, motels, marinas, real estate offices, and all the rest. These businesses are doing things right, and, given a fair shake, they will continue to: they must, in fact — their customers are their neighbors! But big government, whether led by Democrats or Republicans — or, as is the case today, by neither party — gives the tax breaks and handouts to the big boys, the monopolies, the profits-over-people corporations, who pay good money into the political system so that they may, in turn, be catered to. And catered to they are.

Government considers it Job One to funnel tax money to private mega-energy corporations (through fossil fuel tax breaks and weakened environmental regulations), huge health insurance and pharmaceutical companies (where costs are rigged higher than any other industrialized country), university endowments and for-profit colleges (federally-funded student loan debt fueling ever-rising tuitions), military contractors (War on Terror, etc.), and mega-security corporations (Patriot Act, black budgets). Against the megabillions provided for megacorporate welfare, Maine’s true small capitalists can barely put up a fight. Those that still do, represent what might well be the last vestiges of competition remaining in American capitalism.

It is time that we all finally understand that what’s good for Main Street is good for America. Support your local businessman!

Because it isn’t only the CIA and NSA becoming Big Brother that should scare us, these days. Your local “big box” is also quietly (and oh so profitably) morphing into something truly Orwellian: the Ministry of Supply. — MTC




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