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March 19, 2010  |  permalink

Too little, too late.

In today’s NYT, David Brooks uses the British writer Philip Blond as his ventriloquist dummy to make the liberal’s case for “three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor.” Brooks elegantly summarizes the corrosive effects of increasing returns to scale:

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

Blond’s/Brooks’ solution?

This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.

As a liberal/progressive, politically I can get behind this, but it still doesn’t address the issues of scale. Any industry in the business of producing bits will trend toward scale and consolidation, because it makes too much sense not too. I don’t see how localized consumption—when overconsumption is what got America into this mess—is going to make much of a difference. Disagreements are welcome in the comments.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the director of applied research at NewCities and director of strategy at its mobility offshoot CoMotion.  He is also a partner at FutureMap, a geo-strategic advisory firm based in Singapore, a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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