I got to watch PBS’s documentary program ‘Fixing the Future’ at friends on Saturday. It profiles communities that are trying to come to grips with the scarcity of jobs (and household income) in the US economy. For example, Bellingham, Washington, has ‘Sustainable Connections’ which is a network of local businesses that band together to promote the local economy. In Portland, Maine, there is the ‘Portland Hour Exchange’ : a ‘time’ bank where you ‘deposit’ work hours by performing services such as home repairs or even legal or medical services. And then you can withdraw hours for services you might need. (Yes, it’s great that this addresses some needs but does it not raises other issues such as work being done outside agency oversight and potentially not generating any local, state and federal tax revenues?).
The program also pointed out that economic output and economic growth are measured in monetary terms only. But there are other parameters involved in economic activity that we should start to measure as well. It used the example of someone bicycling to the store to buy locally grown apples, as opposed to driving there and buying Kiwis shipped in from New Zealand. Which ‘contributes’ more to the economy? The second example, of course. But which economies, and where does the money go? Some of it goes to the oil company (that got its oil from – Saudi Arabia?), and to New Zealand (not that I have anything against New Zealand!). And should we not measure the health benefits and non-impact to the environment of the first example when we compare the two? (Yes, we should, but it’s not an easy measurement to make!).
The documentary struck a positive and hopeful note in me, but still left me feeling that there are really big issues out there that need to be addressed that are well out of reach of local communities.