January 1, 2015

The economics of shopping locally and how it might save small towns - street by street

Posted in Irish Independent · 39 comments ·

Napoleon dismissed the English as a “nation of shopkeepers”. By this he meant that the English were an inconsequential nation of money-grabbing mediocrities who were only interested in, to paraphrase WB Yeats’s expression, “fumbling in a greasy till, And add the halfpence to the pence”.

This deep prejudice shown by both the Emperor of France and the Nobel prize-winning poet is a typical trap that many self-proclaimed romantics fall into, which is to demonize the noble pursuit of small commerce.

The prejudice of the great dreamer against the little man is nothing new. But it is misplaced. At the end of the day, the bottom-up, mercantile English were far more flexible than the rigid, top-down French. And England beat France both on the sea and, ultimately, on the land.

Napoleon’s great dreams of a centralized, French Europe, governed by clever bureaucrats in Paris, was undone by the British, whose down-to-earth ability in trade and commerce gave them the financial prowess to eventually out-finance and, ultimately, out-gun the French.

A century on, Yeats’s dismissal of the small trader looks like simple class snobbery – a weapon that is very easy to deploy if you are born close to the top of the heap.

The exiled outsider James Joyce was so much more in tune with real Ireland than the senatorial and locally-loved Yeats.

By making his hero Leopold Bloom an advertising salesman, a small businessman who strolled around his city, hung out in bars with the locals and agonized over his marriage, Joyce was celebrating the ordinary. It is the ordinary that makes the world go round and the canvas of the ordinary is the city or the town.

There is nothing grubby about ordinary small commerce; in fact it is the essence of a tolerant society, which most of us aspire to live in.

And tolerance goes hand in hand with a liberal economy. Those apparently insignificant everyday decisions to buy and sell are what makes the world go round. The commercial cycle is also what makes towns and cities breathe and we forget the small trader at our peril.

It isn’t fashionable to celebrate the ordinary trader, the grocer, the publican and all those small businesses that make many of our towns and their centres viable. However, without small commerce we have no small towns and without small towns, driven by small town businesses, what does rural Ireland have?

The small town economy is a strange, interlinked and highly sensitive eco-system where we all depend on each other. This eco-system which is built up over time, in many cases many generations of coming and going, ebbing and flowing and is a highly sensitive matrix of interdependent relationships among workers, shoppers, strollers and chatters.

When we talk about the death of small town Ireland – which is happening in front of our eyes – it is essential to appreciate that this is a gradual process and at its heart is economics and the way the local economy works.

The good news is it can be reversed.

But before we reverse the decline we have to understand what’s happening.

Everything in the economics of a small town is related. Every decision you take affects me, even if you don’t appreciate it. In short, your commerce is actually my commerce.

In a small town, we buy and sell things to each other and therefore your spending is actually my income and my income drives my spending, which becomes your income. So the sum of our activity is actually much, much greater than any individual decision. It’s hard to appreciate, but when you take out one bit of the equation the effect can be quite deleterious.

Take, for example, the closing of a local Garda station.

In the first instance it doesn’t seem like a huge deal and the issue people might worry about is security but, I believe, it goes far deeper than this.

The key battleground for a town or a city is the street and anything that affects these key commercial and social arteries affects the health of the town. Not only must the street be safe, it also has to be an appealing place to go.

It has to be somewhere where you think you’ll bump into people for a natter as well as for the purely functional notion of shopping. It is also a place people should live and therefore, should be a platform for the casual meeting, where social classes mix and rub up against each other.

In order for this vibrancy to flourish, the place has to be busy all day, not just at certain times of the day.

There should be grannies nattering in the morning, workers having a bite at lunch-time, kids hanging out after school and in the evening punters maybe going for a drink or sitting having a coffee.

A crucial aspect for a vibrant street is an all day shelf life. This is made immeasurably easier if people live in the town.

When the Garda station closes, the first thing that goes is the cop on the street. The local cops who people know. Then, of course, the local guards stop going to the local cafe for a sandwich at lunchtime.

Then their station, which had been a focal point for all sorts of community affairs, lies empty. Then there is no cop at night.

Then if some of the local lads like drinking up a lane, there is no one to move them on. In time, maybe the older people feel less safe, so they don’t come out as much.

The local pub that served the cops after-hours (never) loses business and the local GAA club loses one or two of its most prominent leaders. Then the cafe owner who used to host the cops at lunch-time feels the pinch and possibly she doesn’t spend as much in the next-door clothes shop.

And so on and so on.

As we look around the main streets of some of our rural towns in 2015, maybe it would be wise to see that all these decisions to close barracks, post-offices and the like, have significant ramifications.

Maybe in 2015, our politicians rather than enchanted by the big stuff, the big romantic visions might focus on the small, the ordinary and the pragmatic and look to make Ireland better, street by street.

  1. Colin


  2. Nice article David, and pointing out the truth of local economics.

    Driving through England the last three weeks and visiting friends and relatives I was struck by the apparent vibrancy of the inner core of the cities and the almost unchanged lifestyle of the countryside over the last 50 years.

    Looking around the small market towns one notes the demise of trade. In fact talking to the local shopkeepers I usually greet them with “how’s trade, or how’s business”. The automatic reply is “fine”. However on further questioning and a minute into the conversation there is the agreement that trade is down from last year or some period . It seems the superstore in the city’s suburb is killing small town trade. Free parking and an easy choice of goods beats being Paid and Displayed in every small town.

    The centralization of business, commerce, politics and finance is putting the control of all into the hands of the few.

    It all starts with the central bank fiat money system as those who control the money supply eventually control all else as Napoleon himself found out.

    Left to their own devices people will remain associated in smaller groupings. As a counter culture reaction are the local organic market places spring up and taking root all over. On Saltspring Island there is a farmers market two days a week selling all local produce , goods and artifacts from local craftspeople. No off Island vendors are permitted. On the way one passes numerous roadside stands of farm produce of fruits, vegetables, flours and meats. a local abattoir has been re-established, duly licences and approved to safety standards.

    This movement to local produce sold to local people should now devolve to local governance by local people. If there is excess product it can be sold to a larger wider community but the sale of goods to the larger community should not result in a deficit for the locals.

    As David says , the locals must support the locals or the community dies.
    This also applies to the source of money supply. Much trade is done without the use of money at all. More trade is done with local currency, (Salt Spring bucks)

    no matter what else happens we must regain control of our money supply and retain our own currency. The central banking system must be abandoned as without the freedom of using a debt free, interest free currency we will remain in thrall to the bankers.

    A Rothschilds attributed quote is along the lines of ” I care not who makes the laws of the nations if I control the nations money supply”.

    That control is extended to all things including the control of the local market place. Let us get the money system in order David and then all other things will follow, including the growth and quality of local living standards.

    Happy New Year to All

    • Adelaide

      Bravo, Tony, without reform to our Monetary Model everything else is a futile losing battle. To win the War we must tackle our Monetary Model. It’s becoming a global life and death situation and will only escalate.

      T’is a pity David never writes about the subject. C’mon David, a 2015 resolution to cover the topic in 2015, stop tinkering at the edges and educate the populace on why their small towns/cities/countries are REALLY dying on their feet.

    • michaelcoughlan

      Hi David,

      Both Brogan and Adelaide are right and indeed it is a real pity that you don’t write about how local people can use local tools like local currencies to achieve the vision of another excellent offering. It’s especially a pity you don’t write about it because my understanding is that you already have achieved this first step to rejuvenate our local landscape by implementing the introduction of a local currency into Kilkenny city during the Kilkenomics festival.

      Imagine David if the local Kilkenny currency could be asset backed NOT by gold or silver because as Brogan has repeatedly shown their prices are manipulated through naked short selling in the paper futures markets but by an asset which has NO futures derivatives market and thereby the price of which can’t be artificially manipulated.

      How could this be achieved? No problem let me explain; You use the techniques adopted by fordhall farm in Shropshire (info can be got from links below) and adopt them as follows;.

      Basically you form a providential friendly society which has Ltd liability and you issue shares in denominations of 5 Euro, 10 Euro, 20 Euro and 50 Euro equivalents called say trade units. These are sold to the public who can use them as currency in a local town say Kilkenny as currency. The money collected from the sale of the trade units is used to buy a farm which is least an organic farmer at a fair rate in the case of fordhall for 100 years with succession rights for subsequent generations.

      The trade units would have ownership rights to a share in the land owned by the society equal to a 1:1 Euro/trade unit exchange. These units would circulate widely outside of the town since they were asset backed. They would drop out of circulation since bad currency drives out good currency but it means they would be used as savings for savers as what other options are currently available to savers. 1 vote only per shareholder NOT per share. A market could be established to trade the trade unit certs for people who wanted to cash in their certs. You can buy certs for example from the fiordhall website.

      I might try and do something like this myself very shortly.



    • Amen Tony, very well put. And David’s article was good too. Happy New Year to all.

  3. One of the advantages of local trade is that one tends to know the source of the product. This is important for quality maintenance and especially important or indeed crucial in the purchase of food. food is the fuel for your body. Most look after their car better than themselves.

    It is a wonderful thing to know the source of your food. Putting low grade fuel into a car that requires high grade will quickly carbon up and destroy the engine but many of us eat food that is akin to fueling a gasoline car with diesel fuel.

    Buying organic is done better at the local level as the attached article points out.


  4. Excellent article. However, I believe it’s something of a patriotic myth that the English defeated Napoleon on their own…there were in fact one part of a large European alliance, if I remember correctly

  5. “Maybe in 2015, our politicians rather than enchanted by the big stuff, the big romantic visions might focus on the small, the ordinary and the pragmatic and look to make Ireland better, street by street.”

    Why would one expect the politician to make the changes desired?
    It is up to us the people to act as we would like things to be. As you say, change is always from the bottom up to be beneficial. Change imposed from the top down is never so.

  6. “Imagine if a few thousand Americans (People) began writing to their congressmen seeking accountability for secret futures market trading by central banks and sent copies of that correspondence not only to Zero Hedge but to their local newspapers.

    If he has a piece of paper, an envelope, and a postage stamp, even the lowliest citizen can participate meaningfully in this struggle.”


  7. jackofalltrades

    Great article David

    For tonight – as ive to meet a man about a dog – i will let the windowsill cabbage and carrots crowd have an evening uninterrupted.lol

    Do we have shrimp in our waters? ….lets hope not;)


    • jackofalltrades

      “…Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter.Set your priorities. The rest is just sand….”

      - A Metaphor for Life

  8. Bunclody

    I am familiar with this small town and have spent my long holidays there and in Enniscorthy. I serve clients there still in the town and the nearby farms .The photo brings back much of what it used to be .

    The furthest away tree is actually in Co. Carlow. In that area where the farmers are seen trading is sadly no more and instead is a fortified car park . However every day q lady is seen with her trailer selling various vegitables and Christmas trees . The Chantry Coffee Shop until recently was the pride of the area and many tourist used to visit it and nos is closed . Next to it could be seen hight trees full of squirrils and amazing to watch them. The local farmers market as you see in the photo ceased after the massive bank strike in the 70s and since then a major meaat plant employs the locals and buys all the live animals.

    Much else of what you see in the photo is pretty much the same as it is today and I was only there a week before Christmas.

  9. correction: I am in Paris and using a French keyboard and it tells me all my spellings are wrong

  10. Alors Alors

    I am in agreement with the message that David writes however I disagree with the basis and explanations of the comparrisons made between Napoleon and a Noble Prize winning poet or a dreamer and a little man or the bottom up and the flexible mercantile English and the rigid top down French . There is no precedence or basis in fact and the examples are quoted outside of context .It is hyperbole and bogwash .

    Napoleon was an emperor and a leader and no one since has replaced him .His words are above all that has been written in this article .

    His legacy remains in europe and in recent years Ireland has absorbed its success :

    Imagine Dublin without Guinness and Jameson , without Luas and Major Bill Boards advertising , without free bicycles in Dublin , without some banks in the Financial Service Center etc Where did we get the words Entrepreneur and Consierge , Hotel & Vacance etc

    Now try to imagine Irish Water owned by Veoilia , ESB owned by EDF (France ) next nuclear power station owned by EDF and it goes on . This will be the future in Ireland and it is in the EU blueprint .

    Do not forget Napoleon has his stalwart Cyril Roux well seated in the Central Bank of Ireland .

    You see or you dont see .

    France is from the bottom up only look at : strikes from train drivers , airport controllers, farmers , taxi drivers etc .

    The current French political administrations are a different matter

    Bureaucracy is the bane of France not the legacies of Napoleon.French taxes are beneficial to business in France and their tax system benefits the poor unlike Ireland .

    • michaelcoughlan

      “Napoleon was an emperor and a leader and no one since has replaced him”

      Napoleon was a maniac and plunged Europe into war. Hitler et al tried to replace him by plunging Europe into war trying to dictate policy from the top.

      “His legacy remains in Europe and in recent years Ireland has absorbed its success” Really? How so?

      1/4 of the revenue of France went to keeping the palace of Versailles open prior to the revolution in one of the most extreme examples of central top down control ever.

      In England they developed the postal service and steam engine etc. etc. Factory after factory sprung up in an entrepreneurs bottom up approach bringing untold advancements to the UK. They lost their way in exactly the same way Spain did when they became a nation of lenders lending the profits of wealth creation and placed this activity ahead of manufacturing and production as did Spain when getting access to all the gold and sliver looted from South America in a classic case of hollowing out of society by a corrupt elite in control dictating policy from the top.

      “France is from the bottom up only”

      I am not so sure I agree there. I’d say the unions dictate policy from the top and the workers follow.


  11. gcy_1980

    Just a comment on Yeats and the poem September 1913. Yeats doesn’t dismiss the small trader in this poem. Yeats attacks the preoccupation Irish people at that time had with material wealth and felt that it was damaging the culture of Ireland. In fact, if we think that rural communities have always been sites for strong Irish cultural bonds, then Yeats should be used as a champion of the importance of the culture of the small town through the importance of the businesses and clubs in these towns. So the poem is misquoted in this context.
    I agree otherwise.

  12. Original-Ed

    David, you’ve been here before with an article on the demise of the High Street. The small towns are running out of steam because they’re now victims of the current tech. Revolution. They original tech. Revolution (Industrial) transformed them from being small producers of everyday goods into mere sales outlets for mass the producers in large factories. Now a new destructive wave powered by cheap communications is undermining the very foundations on which they stand and if they are to combat this, they’ll have to return to being producers again. The technology to enable this is just around the corner. – 3D printing is a step in that direction.

  13. Reality Check

    Dutchman Anthony Mighels is leading the way in establishing an interest – free debt free currency alternative to the Bankster Rapists monopoly money.

    Introducing “The TALENT”

    We need an Irish version of this!

    “The Talent’s proposition is particularly ideal for entrepreneurial people who know what is at stake, who see the clear business opportunity that creating high class, professionally run units provide for both participants and the initiator himself.

    By implementing the Talent, the entrepreneur can focus on building the network and the organization necessary to run it, resting assured he’s offering his participants the best complementary currency currently available anywhere.

    The Talent is the first unit in the world that provides everything we expect from money:
    – It is sufficiently available (‘abundant money’)
    – It provides interest-free credit
    – It is convertible to Euro/Dollar
    – Allows payment on-line and by mobile phone
    – Connects both businesses and consumers and potentially (local Government)
    – Implementation comes with full consultancy.

    All in all the Talent is the first architecture that truly allows head on competition with Dollar or Euro in the marketplace”


  14. Reality Check

    More on “The Talent” here;

    “Very soon now, we’ll start crowdfunding for the national implementation of the Talent in the Netherlands, called the ‘Florijn’.

    We will very much need every cent we can get to get things going so we can build a truly flourishing network, with many thousands of businesses and consumers.

    It’ll be an opportunity for all to actually DO something about this most pressing of issues………….

    Here’s some more input on the Talent’s specifications.

    Money Creation:
    Hybrid: some units created as debt free units, and sold for Euro. The euros are put in a ‘stabilization fund’ which can be used to buy up units on the exchange if there is excess supply/insufficient demand.

    But most of the units will be created simply as mutual credit: double entry bookkeeping.

    Business Model:
    No transaction costs! Transaction costs discourage transactions. The last thing we want.

    Businesses pay (typically) 10,- per month in the Talent based unit. Because of the convertibility that the Talent allows, the issuing organization can accept payment in Talent too, which obviously enhances both ‘liquidity’ in the network and the credibility of the unit.

    Of course these costs are very, very low and it does mean that the unit needs a fair few businesses to be self-sustaining.

    We use Cyclos software. A high end on-line banking system, created by STRO, a Dutch think tank in Utrecht. It’s a brilliant tool, allowing comprehensive and subtle configuration.

    The on-line exchange, that allows convertibility, is our own software, as Cyclos does not support such functionality.

    Modes of payment:
    On-line telebanking, pay per phone (SMS). Paper money is optional.

    Configured at 0%, but depending on the circulation of the unit in practice, the Talent is ready for it.


    Interest-free credit:

    Abundant money:

    Secure against manipulation:
    Full control within the network for the system’s management. Management can guard against speculation, rent-seeking activities, hoarding (with the purpose of sabotage and manipulation of volume) etc.
    True: centralized management brings responsibility and risks of its own, but Bitcoin shows that non-centralized, user based control sees quick cornering of the money market.

    And below a presentation, juxtaposing the Talent vs. the main architectures currently available”


    • michaelcoughlan

      Hi reality check,

      “But most of the units will be created simply as mutual credit: double entry bookkeeping.”

      I am sorry to rain on your parade but this is the Achilles heals in most of these lets type systems. Money is only a tool to be employed AFTER the wealth has been created NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

      When you create credit first you are starting of with a currency of no intrinsic value so people will naturally not trade valuable goods and services for worthless credit. The well known maxim can be applied in this circumstance to say; a bad currency will drive out valuable goods and services. If you examine the various lets organisations currently operating you will find its only bric a brac which is offered for sale.

      If you back an alternative currency with a valuable asset like land currently valued at 12k per acre near me you will force participants to provide high quality goods and services in exchange for units of the currency. Such an asset backed currency can still fulfil interest free aims and be a real citizens currency freely convertible into national currency if desired.



  15. DB4545

    Good article David.
    Top down management of any enterprise usually ends in tears. People have it within their power to shape change if only they would use it. That power is their wallet (their vote has been diluted by lobbyists and other vested interests). Buy local if possible as the money hopefully will circulate locally. The local butcher and greengrocer is usually cheaper as well. A tenner spent locally pays for petrol, food etc. and it circulates. A tenner spent in a multinational supermarket chain is sucked out of the economy and ends up in some offshore account avoiding tax. Someone mentioned Guinness. That company was a good employer but they ruthlessly attempted to maintain near monopoly conditions of market share. Thankfully Craft beer is making some inroads and the more small Craft breweries the merrier. A brewing tradition like Germany is a healthy aspiration. I’d like to see the same thing happen with small distilleries. We have under ten distilleries Scotland has close to two hundred. Ideal Businesses for rural areas. Think about it. We export our peat bogs as moss peat and instead the product could be leveraged with other ingredients to make the finest Whiskey for a market that is growing 25% annually. Small is good, small works, small creates real prosperity. Happy new year.

  16. jackofalltrades

    Thank Crunchie it’s Friday;)

    For what it”s worth,it appears that i need to remind posters here that they need to dream a little bigger… Maybe we ought to ease off the romanticism (those guys and gals will never hear the shots that kill them) and imagine[ " it's easy if you try"] our little island – not just feeding it’s own citizens top quality produce, in an ever-increasing and prolific/lush manner, and of course continuing to feed Ireland’s current clients,but moreover,growing the number of new international clients who have an appreciation for a wide range of [organic] wholesome foods. The list of offerings and potential is finite, but unbounded,if the intent is there. And with advancements in food tech, food production systems and related nanotech advancements –well, the words ‘scale’ and ‘value’ take on much deeper meanings?
    And especially food industry specific,i’m all for co-ops and organising such small groups organically into bigger/stronger collections of like minded people who share the same visions [and are not sell outs to corporations]

    So,by design,we carefully choose markets and a range of foods where we can deliver,qualitatively speaking,foods that will thrive!But,yea, there’s sometimes,if not always, a ‘but’ (pity that!)and it’s this – if housewife Áine (and/or house-husband Séan) choose to make their decisions based entirely on price,well,,, then,it’s the best laid plans of mice and men department,so,the culture in our society must change too,tangentially.

    This is where this poster [sometimes] diverges with others here,in our common quest to hit pay ‘dirt’… I suppose it takes a leap of Faith, but not in an unknowing way,but wilfully combining Science and our noetic will to shape a pathway to Freedom & fulfilling one,of many destinies..

    (Hmmm…who’s the romantic now ?!!)


    As we are speaking of community,and thinking BIG…


  17. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/01/03/antibiotic-resistance-microbes.aspx?e_cid=20150103Z1_DNL_NonBuyer_art_1&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20150103Z1-NonBuyer&et_cid=DM65817&et_rid=790488019

    Many reasons for buying locally have been expressed but non are better than the avoidance of the poisons currently in our food.

    Going organic and non GM food has never been more urgent for your health and survival.

    Have a good read of this Dr. Mercola article and you will never buy, off the shelf, without reading the labels. Be warmed that GM foods do not have to be stated or advised on the labels.

    Get to know your local farmer and take care picking your fuel for your body. All the additives will surely cripple you and hasten your spell of life on this earth.

  18. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/01/04/ebola-ozone-therapy-updates.aspx?e_cid=20150104Z1_SNL_NonBuyer_art_1&utm_source=snl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20150104Z1-NonBuyer&et_cid=DM65746&et_rid=791599398

    Never mind what big business does to small towns and villages.
    Never mind what agribusiness can do to your food.
    Just look at what big pharma can do to your health?
    They allow you to die if there is no money in it.
    In fact they insist you die.

    And it all starts with dishonest money that poisons the mind and spirit.

  19. “New Aerial Photos Suggest Big Organic Farmers May Be Lying to Us … Consumers of organic eggs and milk like knowing that the cows and chickens on organic farms are treated decently. Many people count on the fact that these animals are required to get a certain amount of time in the great outdoors. They’re not supposed to be kept indoors round the clock in classic factory farm fashion. Unfortunately, one watchdog group called the Cornucopia Institute says the biggest organic farms aren’t bothering to follow the rules. They’re getting too big to be able to even try. In fact, they’re turning into… factory farms. – Care2 -”

    See more at: http://www.thedailybell.com/news-analysis/35958/Big-Farming-Confronts-Organic-Farming-and-the-Results-May-Be-Explosive/?uuid=6F800609-5056-9627-3C5071902B060BF2#sthash.0W3DADHJ.dpuf

    That is why you need to know your local farmer. You need to ensure you are getting what you think you are.

    • jackofalltrades

      “May be lying to us” lol

      some years back i asked a friend – a seasoned worker in a turkey factory ( of ‘perceived’ high repute )to ‘lay is hands’ on an organic turkey for me and my family,to taste the difference,right?

      He said “sure,no problem”,but said there was zero difference between free range and organic.I argued ’til i was blue in the face’ the difference,to which he gave a[infuriating] wry smile, “there’s no difference my man” ,,,,,, in that moment,i understood that he knew something i [ clearly] didn’t, and i asked him to explain what i was ‘missing’ [ i.e. the big picture and what was actually Real] ,,,,he explained that the turkeys on the conveyor belt diverged at the packing station, and the random turkeys that went left- got tagged “free range” and the turkeys that went to the right – ” Organic” …..
      In my innocence, i replied “that not possible….consumer protection enforcement is not so lax, i argued!” ….. he duly laughed his ass off [at my naivety] and asked if i wanted the organic turkey, or not ………

      THE END

  20. The US plans a nuclear first strike war on Russia. Russia with a Chinese ally can defeat the west by financial activity without a shot being fired. Putin needs to make the first move to save the world from nuclear devastation. This will be, with the able assist of China, by selling US denominated bonds and currency.


  21. [...] you need fresh when you need it. Read Irish Economist David McWilliams article on Shopping local could save our dwindling communities street by street. [...]

  22. [...] you need fresh when you need it. Read Irish Economist David McWilliams article on Shopping local could save our dwindling communities street by [...]

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