Since the dawn of recorded human history, commerce could flourish in any part of the world when the public sector and private sector worked together in concert to create the most ideal business conditions. For example, if you invented a useful product and desired to transport it to customers, keeping the public roadways and rivers open and secure for your bullock cart, the automobile, or boat were prerequisites for success. Eventually, this extended to the world’s airspaces, now routinely patrolled by sovereign government air forces and governed by detailed air traffic control protocols. Safety regulations and legal restitution for contract disputes were developed by smart governments to guarantee that customers would receive what they paid for in private market exchanges.
Governments and private enterprises in fact need each other to survive. We don’t expect the government to manufacture great computer chips or run the best restaurants, because mature industries exist to satiate those markets based on the principles of supply and demand. Government revenues meanwhile are mostly made up of tax receipts on individuals and companies within their jurisdiction, with the profit motive removed by the necessity for the *common good*.
When a private business is booming, the government typically has more funds for roads, policing, schools, environmental protection, etc.- which if managed well, make business conditions even better still for the future. Nowhere is this essential connection more apparent than in local government, which has been my career trajectory for the last 20 years.
At the birth of the United States and modern democracy itself, a debate was initiated in the 1770s between two of the founding fathers of America that continues to this day. Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury envisioned a future where the economy would be run by successful large scale corporations. On the other side was Thomas Jefferson, who believed thriving small business proprietors should form the backbone of the new economy. Both men were patriots, geniuses, and polymaths in their own right, but they died without resolving their bitter disagreements.
Today both types of business can succeed, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend of world governments bailing out major corporations at the expense of small businesses. This is often because corporations have deep pockets used to influence bureaucrats and politicians on how to direct taxpayer money. However, this trend can be reversed by all of us as individual workers and consumers with the undeniable freedom to choose.
We can choose to buy local, and sell locally. Not only does this keep money circulating within the confines of the community we live in, rather than a faraway corporate headquarters perhaps based in another country. Not only does it benefit those you are able to form close and ongoing personal relationships with, whether your local taxi driver, tailor, grocer, mechanic, or bartender. Not only would increased local exchange help the earth’s natural environment by decreasing carbon emissions from long-distance transport. It also increases tax receipts for your local government to provide better services for you, your friends, and your family living in the same community as you. I cannot stress how much this can have a direct impact on the quality of our lives for the better.
2020 was a horrible year, not least because of the pandemic. But the future will be bright if the lessons we can learn forged from tragedy motivate us to make changes that improve the strength of our global society, one community at a time.