Sunday morning, I stopped in to Ray’s Super Foods, a long-time source of employment for yours truly and a place with a special place in my heart, and caught up for a short while with my (“former”) boss. Having inquired about the present successes (or lack thereof) of the store, I received the following reply
“I hate to say it, but these gas prices, they’re bad for the economy, but they’re good for Ray’s.”
A seasoned businessmen, and something of a community leader (We haven’t much community, as it were, to lead, but he’s a reliable contributor to causes seeking aid, and has been exceedingly active in the local Little (now Cal Ripken) League.), Ray is no dummy. He’s not an intellectual, either, so I avoided trying to take the conversation to too deep a level, merely quipping something to the effect of, “Well, I don’t know that I care too much about how the economy is doing as long as our economy is benefitting,” to which he rather simply, but astutely, replied, “I guess that depends on what you mean by “the economy”.” This remark resonated deeply with me, and has stuck with me since Sunday morning.
Of late, courtesy of a housing market disaster (except, of course, for those who hitherto could not afford to buy a home, maybe), distressingly high gas prices, and a dollar sinking more quickly than the Titanticlatched on to the Hindenburg, we’ve suffered much pundit-speak about the troubles of the “economy”, that is, the expansive, aggregate national economy.
Rather misleading, I say! Reading Berry and Kunstler in particular, I’ve encountered time and again a theme that, as time has passed, I have more and more come to believe is not only an undeniable truth, but an all-too-often denied truth, ignored to the detriment of society, to wit, that economy is community and community, economy. Exceedingly skeptical of the notion of any sort of national (or even regional) community, I conceive easily only of community on the local level, the little platoons of Burke, neighborhoods, small towns, and struggle, thus, to discern any meaningful relevance, beyond for statisticians and “My dad is better than your dad” nationalists, of speak of the national economy.
Yes, I recognize that, particularly in a nation-state wherein the Leviathan has in countless ways interfered with the market perniciously as, if not more, frequently as it has for the greater good (Nebulous concept, I know.), a decision at the top can trickle down in ways that affect community-economies across the map, so that, in a sense, “the economy” does exists. Nevertheless, if neighborhoods, towns, and cities, with their near-by countryside, can develop economically and ecologically, as well as socially, sustainable systems of exchange — that is, if they can free themselves from the moral bankruptcy of neo-classical economics (or worse!) and can begin to rely on themselves, to be (reasonably) self-sufficient, becoming community-economies — then, perhaps, someday, we shall recognize the silliness of speaking of “the economy”. If Ray’s Super Foods, often looked over because the independent grocer seldom can compete on prices with Wal*Mart thirty miles away (and because, since my departure, the store seems to have deteriorated into the sort of store at which Poles in the waning days of Soviet domination might have shopped), can benefit from these distressingly climbing gas prices, maybe other businesses in town can. Maybe the town can, and maybe other communities can follow suit.