Cage Match: TINA vs LOIS

With all this Wal-Mart love going around, it might be an appropriate time to point out that Wal-Mart is BIG, and when it comes to town the local economy changes. Small retailers often complain that they can buy stuff cheaper from Wal-mart than they can from their own wholesalers. Most governments are resigned to the multinational big-boxes coming into town and destroying their main streets because, they say resignedly, There Is No Alternative (TINA). Michael Shuman thinks otherwise and writes about it in The Small-Mart Revolution-How Local Businesses are Beating the Global Competition. He introduces us to LOIS- Local Ownership/Import Substitution. TINA businesses are highly visible- the big Toyota or BMW plant your state gave concessions to, the big-box center that your city built the infrastructure for after a few years of zoning wars. In reality LOIS is bigger and for any economy a lot better.

LOIS businesses are long term wealth generators where the money mostly stays in the place where it is generated;

LOIS businesses are smaller, so there are fewer destructive exits. When your town is dependent on one big company and it leaves, goodbye town economy.

LOIS businesses have higher economic mulitpliers- in one study comparing two bookstores in Austin, economists found that 13 dollars out of every hundred spent in Borders stayed in town, whereas in the local bookshop, 45 dollars circulated in Austin.

Shuman lays out a plan that consumers should consider to support LOIS, and points out that you will not spend more but less money. Drink local craft beer and wine; find local entertainment; eat out locally rather than in the chains; cut auto use; get your mortgage from a credit union. He then sets out the purchasing ladder, in decreasing order of goodness:

Buy less
- a self-reliant community needs self-reliant people.

Buy Local (triple crown: locally made goods sold in a locally owned store from locally found inputs.)

Buy local-imperfect choices.
It is better to buy local-non-organic produce than it is to buy non-local organic food flown in.

Buy Regional- if you can’t find local.

Buy Bi-Local- if you cannot find what you need in your region, consider helping another, for example developing relationships with other LOIS groups that have what you need.

Buy Fair Trade- if you cannot grow your own coffee and cocoa, support the farmers more directly by buying fair trade.

Shuman goes on to provide guidelines for investors, entrepreneurs, community builders and even globalizers, people who spread the message of LOIS. Some of it gets to be a bit of a slog, and some of it gets to be wishful thinking, but this is an important book. We read it immediately after finishing the Wal-Mart Effect and the one-two punch is a powerful incentive never to step foot into any chain store ever.

Import substitution sometimes requires changing the way you live, but it is not hard. Local apple cider made by the farmer outside town tastes just as good as Brazilian orange juice boxed by Tropicana. Getting your produce at the weekly farmers market is cheaper and more fun than getting it the big box. We have even found that a ream of printer paper at our neighbourhood main street dollar store is cheaper than at Staples. We pay a penny less for gas at the local Can-go station, and we get the extra frisson of boycotting Esso. You go girl, LOIS! ::The Small-Mart Revolution -order from your local bookstore.