RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Stimulate Your Own Economy

Congratulations, Wal-Mart Shoppers. You’ve made the world’s biggest winner in the 2008 lottery called Wall Street. And, when we have the new stimulus package for spenders, you’ll do it again in 2009.

So you spent the money. Here’s a little experiment: Dump the entire contents of your closet on the floor. Now, hang things up again, first looking at the “made in” tags, as in “Made in Malaysia,” on every shirt, pants, jacket, sweater, shoe—all of it. Anything from the United States?

The net result of the 2008 stimulus package: Billions of dollars flying through Wal-Mart, away from the US and into the coffers of dictatorships. And, this year, we have a secretary of state with deep Wal-Mart connections. Yes, I mean Hillary. Nobody gets out of Arkansas without Wal-Mart providing the wind in their sails.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the new guy. I especially like that he worked as a community organizer and that, when he lived in Chicago, he had to drive past miles of fields to get to work in Springfield. They were corn and soybeans, probably GMO, but maybe he learned something about the value of food.

So his stimulus package might be smarter than Bush’s. Maybe there will be bonuses for paying off debt. Or maybe you’ll get coupons for buying a locally-produced side of beef, a weekly box of farm produce, handmade pottery, or subscriptions to independent periodicals like the one you’re reading right now.

What if an economic stimulus could change things? What if the money supported you and your neighbors? Let’s imagine a stimulus package that really rebuilds communities from the ground up.

The money would ensure that there was local production of food essentials in every state. Maybe there could be special accounts at the farmers’ markets and, instead of getting a check in the mail, you’d get credit for buying from your neighbors.

This would result in a far more secure food supply and fewer miles of petroleum-based shipping per item. It would bring back that regional food that we all crave when we’re visiting a new place. And the price of local items would compete favorably with the present-day subsidized imports.

Next, the stimulus money should go to ensure storage and transportation of locally-produced essentials to every part of the state. The old roads and bridges could sure use some work. There should be no new money for the import-export model of consumerism. No Nafta highway or new airports. Not that we couldn’t import bananas and chocolate, but farmers in every state should produce the grain, meat and produce that its consumers use.

In the next stimulus package, we need to remember the beauty of small economies and thrift. In the next stimulus package, there should be bonuses for local producers that re-use containers, and money for local production of containers like boxes and buckets made from recycled inputs.

We’d subsidize production of locally-produced clothing and housewares.

After ensuring the food supply, we should stimulate the housing industry to get housing at a fair price for everyone. And, of course, we’d be sure that everyone had health care and an appropriate education.

Finally, we’d re-build the car industry.

As the debate over Detroit has raged, I’ve asked around: What would it take for you to buy a new American car?

Most people laugh, then mention more miles per gallon. One friend told me she wants choices, like the ability to choose crank windows instead of motorized ones. A mother of teenagers said, “No satellite radio, no GPS, no cruise control.” A fellow farmer, who spends his winter fixing his tractors and combine said, “something I can fix myself.”

Besides asking about Detroit, I’ve spent the last two months telling friends and family, “Don’t get your hopes up.” Sometimes I say please, as in “Please don’t get your hopes up.”

Because hopefulness is a drug, turning you on, then turning on you. Hope implies that there’s something to hope for, and if hope’s all you got, you can spend a lot of time watching and waiting for something to turn up, rather than doing the stuff you can do on your own.

And we don’t have a lot of time. We’re in the fourth quarter, dear ones, and it’s time for progressives to play our best game. We’re in the fourth quarter of America’s supremacy, and the fourth quarter of the old financial system, the fourth quarter of easy resources and the fourth quarter of earth’s livability.

And the new guy could go either way. He has a team that could build consensus for a new future, or it could lead him in the direction of status quo.

So, please, don’t get your hopes up.

And when that stimulus check comes, spend it to pay down debt, or buy locally. We need to build our own economies, in our own communities.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, Feb. 1, 2009

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