By Chris Theodore
I tend to believe most of us know we have to make sure we live in a society without huge differences between rich and poor. We feel it in our bones that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and as the gap widens between rich and poor we move to living in a society in which power wielded by some is absolute. That isn't any kind of a place to live in-- where inequality is trending upward and unfortunately largely through our inaction, that's where we live.
What can we do? This Reader begins to answer that question with ideas by Michael Shuman and Carne Ross, the latter of whom says, "It is ordinary people, not great men, who make history. The individual, and not government, is in fact the most powerful agent of change."
You don't have to look very far to see institutions you can make history with.
Locally-owned businesses provide a community with a measure of economic power, self-sufficiency, and unique character. For decades, small, locally-owned businesses have not only served as an economic engine for the entire country, producing most of its GDP, they were a moral, democratizing force direct from Main Street America, which kept a needed check on corporate power in America. Today, locally-owned businesses struggle despite the enormous benefits they provide. Why?
"Even though roughly 50% the jobs and [GDP] in the economy come from local small business, almost all our investment dollars go into big corporations on Wall Street", says Michael Shuman.
How much is that? Liquid assets held by U.S. households and non-profits in the form of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life insurance and pension funds totaled $30 trillion in 2010. Not even 1 percent touch US small businesses.
"Were local businesses uncompetitive, unprofitable, and obsolete for the U.S. economy, this gap would be understandable. But as we will see, local businesses are actually more profitable than larger corporations", says Shuman.
What's stopping the flow of money that-- if markets were efficient-- would flow to U.S. small businesses? Certainly part of the problem are six dominant media companies, News Corp, CBS, Time Warner, Comcast, Viacom and Disney, which have each fought tooth and nail to repeal legislation designed to keep control of media from falling into too few hands.
Why isn't there sustained reporting from any of these media companies which control 90% of American information-- on why small businesses and entrepreneurs produce half the nation's GDP and jobs but do not receive even 1% of the available investment dollars from U.S. citizens?
Can you imagine a greater disservice to you and 70 million Americans who are the owners or employees of America's 27 million small businesses than for these six media companies to fail to inform the US population of this?
In this Reader Magazine, we make it clear how by investing money in our favorite, close-to-home, locally-owned businesses we can take a huge, inspiring step to change something that probably keeps us up at night-- which is the uneven playing field 98% of Americans find themselves on.
Carne Ross writes, "We have been silenced by the pervasive belief that there is no better system, when in fact our democracy has been hijacked by those with the largest profits. We have been intimidated by the bullying repetition that the status quo represents the summit of human progress to date, when in its inequality, its carelessness for our planet and its inhumanity to our fellow humans, in many ways it represents the worst. Our silence permits this outrage to continue, and profound injustice to be perpetuated. And it is this silence that must now be broken, through a thousand acts of construction to build a better world, a thousand acts that declare that there is a much, much better way of organizing and deciding our lives together. Though peaceful, these are revolutionary acts."