The Roman Empire was once a vast and powerful nation. At its peak, it spread from the modern day equivalents of Portugal to Turkey, England to Egypt. In their time, the Romans were thee citizens to be, at least in their own minds. Much like Americans today, they could largely live outside of a daily fear of having their country toppled. They lived better than most, but not all Romans were equal, and the richest had far, far more than the poorest, with the gap in between ever rising.
Sound familiar? It should.
When George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were risking their lives with pens and swords denouncing England, they were doing so with a more noble cause than I believe is capable of any politician in this nation today. They imagined a great unified alliance of states where the individual could prosper in his own right, free of the oppression set forth by a dictator who permitted them little say over their own fates.
That was around 240 years ago. Not that long a time span in the grand scheme of history. The Roman Empire lasted over 1400 years. Unfortunately, we are showing more and more signs of similarity to the Romans and moving further away from the simple kinds of freedoms of our ancestors.
We have embraced capitalism to the point where those with the power now have more control than the populace. We’ve allowed corporations to become mighty behemoths. We seem to have forgotten–as humans always do when it comes to repeating the mistakes of the past–that it was the massive size of the Roman Empire which became its downfall. The country grew too big to sustain itself, and was therefore split into two before being eventually destroyed altogether. But this is exactly what is happening today in America. We allow some corporations, and their profiting higher ups, to become so massive that when they fail, we feel that we must save them or our economy will collapse. And as a capitalist society, we show that our way of existence is not a viable one. Those who believe in unregulated free markets yet support corporate bailouts (and yes, they’re one in the same) are hypocrites, and worse, traitors to our nation. By taking everything they can from us, losing it, and then convincing the government to have us pay them all back the money they stole from us in the first place anyway, these massive corporations become the ruling class. Even as I write this, tobacco and chemical companies, big oil and car companies are literally writing the laws of our nation.
What can the average American do?
Buck up, it’s time. We have been tricked. Tricked into $8 t-shirts and 75¢ 2 liters of soda. Made to believe that we can’t afford to buy more expensive clothing and food, that though we would like to support the little local shops in our town, we just don’t have the kind of money it takes to pay real prices for real items.
But now more than ever, we need to reverse the trend of a few big companies running the universal show and put our money back into the hands of small businesses. It’s an incredibly simple reality. You and the nine other people on your block make $100 / week. You all spend $90 of that at the same big box store where you get your clothing, food, tools, car parts, toys, electronics and so on. By the end of the week, the big box store has $900 of the previously available $1000 from your block. The owner of that store has 90% of your block’s wealth, you’ve given it all away. And that big box store owner doesn’t live on your block, so you don’t see that money being poured back into the sidewalks and power lines and home repairs needed on your block, it all goes and sits in their bank or gets spent building bigger, better versions of those needs for the store owner. You and your neighbors screw one another out of your own chance at living well.
If instead you took your $100 and spent $40 of it on food purchased from one of your neighbors, $30 on clothes purchased from another, and $20 went into fixing your sidewalks, power lines and home, guess what? You’re left with $10, just like in the previous scenario. Except, if you and all of your neighbors do this, then you’re not left with $10, you’re left with $20, because you weren’t just giving your money away to neighbors who will ship that money off to somewhere you’ll never see it again: they’ll be in turn purchasing food, clothes and repairs (whatever it is you in particular sell) back to you again.
When you shop locally, you keep the money in your community. That means one dollar can be turned into three or more, just by choosing to spend your money at a local establishment vs. a chain store. How is that? Well, you buy a coffee for a $1 from your local cafe. That dollar is then used to pay an employee, instantly doubling it. When the employee then goes and spends it on a beer later that night from a local bar, the process continues. Some studies show that dollar may be reused up to 15 times in a community before typically leaving.
On the other hand, when you buy a coffee from Starbucks, nearly all of your $1 (or $4.95, in the case of the ‘bucks) goes immediately to the coffers of the big business owners behind the national chain. They don’t spend it, because they’ve got too much money to spend all of it anyway. So instead they invest, and the money becomes less and less real. Money in the stock market is money disappeared. No matter where it goes though, it sure as hell isn’t coming back to us.
This is how we the people of the United States of America have been tricked into growing our own nation so large that it is doomed to fall. Those who’ve tricked us don’t care, because they have managed to get us to give them everything we’ve got and when the going does eventually get tough, well they can easily just get going, given they’ve got the funds to buy themselves a new life in whatever superpower nation comes after this one.
Men used to get rich by building railroads and forging cities. Now they get rich by using our money to buy up all the rice in Africa with the hopes it will drive up the price. Sure, a few million Africans starve, but they earn a whopping gain. We are all guilty of this, every one of us who spends a single paycheck at Walmart, a dollar at McDonalds. These companies are publicly laughing at us, Walmart employees suffering all types of injustices from slavery to poverty and McDonalds spitting in our faces by touting themselves as focused on Americans health while serving us fake food (and it is fake, no hamburger can be made of beef and go for $0.99).
The solution is amazingly easy. Buy your groceries at locally owned, independent grocers and coops. Eat at local restaurants. Buy clothes from small retailers based in your area whenever possible. Never shop at chains. Yes, it will be more expensive at first, but eventually the tide will turn. Good things happen more quickly than you think. A perfect example is Whole Foods: they decided to sell organic and healthy food exclusively, and that meant that shopping at Whole Foods was significantly more expensive than shopping at Giant Eagle (or whatever your local regional grocer is) and certainly more than Walmart. But only a few years later you could shop at Whole Foods, purchase food that was actually good for you, and not spend all that much more than at other stores. Maybe not as cheap as Walmart, but have you ever noticed how Whole Foods employees are almost always smiling? Ever seen a Walmart employee smile outside of a commercial?
Of course, Whole Foods isn’t exactly local, but the idea is there: if we vote with our dollars, we can affect real change–not the kind promised by fleeting Presidents–in our nation before it’s too late.
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