All of the past economic revolutions in the U.S. (cars, trains, airplanes, food, personal computers, etc.) started with a large number of small companies that converged, resulting in a few large companies.
But now there is the Back to the Golden Past movement – an attempt to create many small companies and recreate small communities. It’s a good thing, and yet… we’re nervous.
This is a parallel track that has been occurring in the U.S. and Europe for the past several decades. Globalization ticked people off and/or scared them and they are retreating into a perhaps-imaginary Golden Past. It started with Planners – both city and state – who have been forcing light rail, trolleys and other 19th century traffic modes on cities. Dams are being torn out. Cars are being demonized.
And here is one problem we see. Farming is hard work. Baking and milling by hand is hard, back-breaking work. That’s why most of the communes of the 1970s have disappeared.
All these wonderful, bucolic things are much better and more fun to watch than to do. Most of the people involved in this dream are either retired, have day jobs, or are independently wealthy. Kind of like the aristocrats of France playing at being shepherds and shepherdesses. Fun, but they got to go back to the warm castle at night and sleep in their own beds, not share a pile of straw with a dozen or so relatives.
So, what will the outcome be? More large companies producing organic, artisanal replicas of days gone by? Or giant Disneylands that people can come out and visit, like a zoo? Or communities of self-supporting, interconnected small businesses?
This isn’t a theoretical question. At one of the most distressing events of the conference, we listened as a panel talked about grants from foundations and government programs they were taking part in.
Our thought, “They are getting other people to pay them to do these things, which are not paying for themselves in a market-based economic system. Who are those people subsidizing this movement? Surely, some have more money than they know what to do with, but others are unwitting supporters of these fanciful projects. In other words, taxpayers.”
We realize these people think they are worthy of receiving such assistance, but if the market won’t support people moving Back to the Golden Past, they are in constant danger of having their funding cut.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.