Rules and Choices for a Sustainable Local Economy

Economies are social systems within which we make choices based on needs, wants, and means. People regulate economies through rules that set taxes, tariffs, fees, standards, licensure, certification, patents, etc. These rules reflect the priorities of the people who enact them through their governance structures be they for small local groups or large global agencies.

The intent of rules is to limit choices in favor of those that produce the desired behavioral outcomes on a consistent basis. Such rules make the economic system more effective (do the right thing) and efficient (do it the right way).

Oftentimes, rules from multiple levels of jurisdiction apply to the same set of choices. For example, cooperatives, municipalities, county, state, and federal offices and agencies, the European Union, the United Nations, professional societies, industry-wide private sector groups all have a hand in defining various regulations to monitor and manage the supply of basic needs such as food, water, energy, fuel, manufactured goods, etc.

Unfortunately, competing or unclear interests behind the rules or insufficient diplomatic moxie to enforce them results in a complex legal and financial landscape in which to make choices. From a business perspective, this dense web of rules becomes a barrier to entry for all but those that have a global market, deep pockets, and easy access to resources to sort through the alternatives, invest in the opportunities, and pay the consequences for any misstep. It also fosters a dependency by people and their communities, neighborhoods, and rural areas on global players to supply them with basic needs. This places communities at risk for survival if supply chains are disrupted whether by natural disasters, climate change, pandemics, fossil fuel shortages, political turmoil, even a down Internet, to mention some of the more obvious.

As explored in the posting, “Business Models for a Local Economy,” the primary purpose of a local economy is to meet the needs of its participants whereas the purpose of the global economy is to satisfy their wants. Such distinctly different purposes result in different rule sets. Governance structures proliferate at all levels to administer rules of the global economy. Far fewer are in place for local economies. However, several types are available. Among these are policy councils, buying clubs, and co-ops for food, family, education, housing, etc.

Governance structures for local economies establish the rules by which members of communities, neighborhoods, and rural areas have more options available so they can choose to meet their needs through local sources. In effect, such “rules management” facilitates “Business Model Development within a Local Economy”, which drives two fundamental “localization” processes:

  • Integration across all value-added steps from the point of consumption back to the points of production
  • Utilization of community assets and resources without reliance on outside funding

The combination of these two processes, under the auspices of a local governance structure, gives interdependent local businesses and support organizations the competitive edge to prevail over their global counterparts when meeting needs of community members. Furthermore, members have opportunities to minimize economic leakage, reinvest their assets, and retain vital resources in the community through an effective portfolio management effort. This collective effort, then, is the foundation for sustainable local economic development.

The diagram below offers another way to view these critical interrelationships.

The integration of value-add steps–a function of rules management–flows from the point of consumption to the points of production, whereas the utilization of community assets and resources–a function of asset management–flows from identification and location to inclusion in an infrastructure project and business case portfolio.

The center of the diagram lists a wide range of professional services required to accomplish the tasks and complete the activities associated with rules management, business ecosystem functionality, and asset management. Social networking and innovation, which characterize asset management, and entrepreneurship and commercialization, which result from rules management, form the backdrop to conduct these transactions.

As the graphic suggests, services are transactions–the lifeblood in social system behavior. Nothing gets done between and among people without transactions. However, some methods and processes require fewer transactions than others. Furthermore, a healthy local economy incurs fewer transaction costs, either internal or external, to meet the needs of its members than a global economy. This is simply because the sustainability of the community is in the hands of those who live there. It’s in their vested interest to manage it. And given the choice to do so, which a vibrant local economy does, members will act on behalf of their collective sustainability.

Community members, represented by the orange-colored background, have the rules in hand to manage the context and the choices available by which they can:

  • Meet their needs
  • Sustain their community for generations to come
  • Assure themselves of a reasonable quality of life
  • Build on a firm foundation to participate, successfully, in the global economy

These outcomes of constitute the primary purpose for a sustainable local economy and the healthy development it catalyzes and encourages.

Originally posted to Sustainable Local Economic Development on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on Wednesday, September 8, 2010

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