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Dunbar’s General Store

When an economy operates locally, everyone in it enjoys some measure of power. But when an economy operates globally, only a select few ever rise to a level of power.

Dan says that statement seems backward, but if you toss Dunbar’s number into the equation, I think it all makes sense.

When the scope of the economy is, say, 50-250 people, then (generally speaking) each person is able to maintain a relationship with each other person in the group. These connections keep us “in the loop,” which is absolutely necessary for one to retain that measure of economic power.

When the scope is increased to over 5 billion people, there will be only a very few who are able to forge and maintain a sufficient number of relationships to key players. Those few become the key players, and it’s only by their maintaining those relationships (or by being pursued by other key players) that they retain their power and influence.

Granting that we don’t like such a system, what would the solution be? We can’t force people to not use the transportation and communication tools at their disposal—particularly when doing so appears to be economically sound. (Just look at the environmentalist movements of the 20th century: it’s still the case that, for the vast majority of humankind, “earth-friendly” alternatives are only pursued when they are cheaper, more convenient, or both.) Very few households are truly willing to pay higher prices supporting local economies when they can save a few bucks buying from China.

How did this happen? It’s said that “if you tax something, you get less of it.” For decades our Local, State and Federal governments have increased taxes and regulations on businesses within this nation’s borders while removing tariffs and other barriers to trade with foreign nations. The result is that it’s cheaper to have food shipped over by boat or plane from the other side of the planet than it is to stock shelves with produce from the farmer on the edge of town.

Ultimately, I don’t think we can say that the customer is the one to blame. Free trade with other nations has been pursued at the same time that trade amongst ourselves has been made more and more restrictive. (It’s gotten to where you risk fines, or even jail time, for keeping an eye on your friends’ kids for a few minutes “without a license”!) So if you want to change the system, you may need to change the system.

One thought on “Dunbar’s General Store”

  1. Travis,

    Lawyers are ruining this country. Ruining it. We min too many of them and they subsequently have to find a way to make money, so they sue and make stupid laws. And since our government is made up of lawyers, it explains everything.

    This is not to say that we don’t need lawyers, but we need a whole lot less them, plus we need to find ways of keeping them from making stupid laws, keep them from shoving money toward their cronies, and so on.

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