believe the hype: Michael Shuman sets the record straight
on small business.
PHOTO: Chris Shields
Local, Act Local
highlights the possibilities—and blasts the myths—surrounding
have been told that local businesses simply can’t compete
with global business,” said Michael Shuman Tuesday night in
Troy to a crowd of more than 100 people.
he argued, is a myth.
Shuman, noted author and economist, was in Troy at the Sanctuary
for Independent Media to take part in a symposium on local
business co-sponsored by the Honest Weight Food Co-Op. Troy
was one of the final stops for Shuman on his 30-city book
tour that he began in August to promote The Small-Mart
Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition.
pinpoint the specific industries in which global businesses
have a competetive edge on small businesses, Shuman said,
he referred to a government database, the North American Industrial
Classification System. This database is a composite of 1,000
categories of business, allowing the researcher a concise
view, he said, of the overall structure of the country’s economy.
And from this list, he was able to conclude that there are
only seven industries in which large businesses are actually
more competitive than small business.
turns out that most communities probably cannot run their
own centralized monetary system,” he said. “Most communities
can not run their own nuclear-power plant. These would be
hard to decentralize. But in the 993 other categories, there
are more examples of competitive local businesses than there
are of competitive big business.”
basically,” he concluded, “you can do almost anything at a
competitive level because competitiveness . . . comes from
the intelligence of the entrepreneur, the quality of the workforce,
the integrity of the business plan and the execution. You
can be as local as you wanna be—even in a city like Troy.”
. . . ” a proud Troy resident in the crowd warned Shuman—perfectly
illustrating his point. This was a crowd that believes in
local identity, community identity, a crowd of consumers and
producers that take pride in their wares and their homes,
peopled with those who are proudly opposed to the idea of
shopping at Wal-Mart.
Karisa Centanni, the director of education at the Honest Weight
Food Co-Op, got the idea for the vendor’s fair and small-business
symposium last June when she attended a conference in Burlington
of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.
is an international organization that functions as an umbrella
for all of these small, local, sustainable business networks,”
she said. “And all of these smaller networks that are part
of the larger BALLE network believe in something called the
triple-bottom line—people, planet and profits—versus the traditional
bottom line: profits.”
got me to thinking about how to found a network that promotes
sustainable cities, functional cities, sustainable business.”
One way, she said, is to create opportunities to bring local
have 17 business owners here tonight because I called them
up and they trusted me enough to come. I think that’s really
huge,” she said, geturing out over the crowd of more than
100 people and vendors who filled the Sanctuary. The vendors
included the Daily Grind, Dana Rudolph, Brunswick Smart Growth,
and Mary Jane Books, among a dozen others.
Also represented was the Troy Community Food Cooperative,
which, in its efforts to start a citizen-owned grocery store
in the heart of downtown Troy, is an ideal example of what
a small, sustainable business can be.
In the middle of an evening of eating locally produced foods,
perusing the wares of local vendors, and watching the indie
film Independent America: The Two Lane Search for Mom &
Pop (which goes out of its way, and across the country,
to blast the hell out of Wal-Mart), Shuman gave a 20-minute
stump speech in which he attacked, among other things, the
fallacy that with the big retailers come big consumer savings.
He recalled, in a humorously confessional story, that during
one of his trips to the dreaded retail chain, he had intended
only to buy a pair of shoes and instead wound up with $275
of values. He tried to comfort himself with the statistic
that, on average, the Wal-Mart shopper saves 10 percent over
other retailers. So, he figured, he had saved $27.50.
That is, he realized, until you add on all of the additional
costs, such as overcharges.
was overcharged twice,” he said. “Had those overcharges snuck
by me, I would have been out $50, not ahead $27.50. And overcharges
are endemic in chain stores . . . as much as 8 percent of
spent an hour and a half driving to Wal-Mart,” he continued.
“Then I spent a half an hour in this horrid line. So that
is two hours of my time. If I am paying myself a living wage,
that’s $20. Then there was the $15 of depreciation on my car
getting to get there. So I spent $35 in order to save $27.50.”
Plus, he added, after the shopping frenzy that had taken a
hold of him waned, he realized that he didn’t actually need
most of the stuff he bought. And that much of it was either
of poor quality or was downright broken. “I had wound up shopping
He continued to illustrate the fallacy of savings at large
retailers, pointing out that last year, local pharmacies across
the country boasted lower prices than their chain competitors.
And the savings myth wasn’t the only straw man he addressed.
Another was the belief that economic development, such as
the billion-dollar giveaway Gov. Pataki championed that will
bring Advanced Micro Devices to Halfmoon, will somehow save
know that local businesses have two- to four-times the multiplier
of non-local business,” he said. “That means two- to four-times
the ultimate impact on jobs, on taxes, on overall incoming
wealth. We know that local businesses are consistent with
smart growth, the creation of tourism. We know that local
businesses are much more reliable producers of wealth. They
are not going to suddenly leave a community and leave that
didn’t get in this mess just because local businesses can’t
compete,” he said. “That’s the mythology out there. There
are reasons for that. Every single year, state and local government
are putting $50 billion into the attraction and retention
of non-local business. And the feds are putting in $63 billion.
So that’s $113 billion of pork to destroy local business.
. . . This is a poor public-policy decision.”
And as though he couldn’t help himself, Shuman left the appreciative
crowd with a coy play on the old Marxist slogan: “Small businesses
of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.”
Just Like Dead Animals, That’s All
James Hathaway, a 20-year-old Wisconsin man, is
facing a misdemeanor charge of sexual gratification
with an animal after he was arrested for having
sex with a dead deer. Hathaway was detained Oct.
11 after police met him at his transitional-housing
residence. He reportedly was covered in blood
and what appeared to be deer hair. Despite a confession,
Hathaway could get off—pun intended—if his attorney
can successfully argue that the law applies only
to having sex with live animals and not carcasses.
Hathaway recently was released from prison after
serving 18 months for killing a horse, which,
he said during the investigation of the incident,
he wanted to have sex with.
Warming Goes to Court
has the power to regulate greenhouse gases? That
question is at the heart of the first-ever global
warming case to go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nine justices heard arguments Wednesday in
the suit Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection
Agency. The court will determine whether the Bush
administration must change how it deals with the
threat of global warming, and whether the EPA
has the authority to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions
based on the 1990 Clean Air Act. A coalition of
12 states, three cities and 14 environmental groups
are challenging the administration, which, despite
its history of seeking greater consolidation of
power in the executive office, has argued that
it doesn’t have the authority to regulate emissions.
series of unfortunate events recently fell upon
the First Family and its entourage. President
George W. Bush’s string of unhappy incidents began
Nov. 19, when a brake malfunction during touchdown
in Vietnam caused six of the tires on Air Force
One to simultaneously deflate. Later, in Hawaii,
an acting White House official was beaten and
robbed. The following day, three police motorcycle
officers were injured—one fatally—when they crashed
on slick pavement while escorting Bush’s motorcade.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, the Bush twins’ vacation
did not go without incident. A Secret Service
agent was badly beaten days before Barbara Bush
became the victim of a purse-snatcher, despite
the presence of agents. The Bush twins’ activities
sparked an Argentinean tabloid frenzy, including
a report that the two were seen running naked
through a hotel hallway. Ultimately, U.S. embassy
officials “strongly suggested” that the duo cut
their trip short.
pushes the Legislature to right his wrong by passing civil-
The civil-confinement issue has again taken the forefront
in New York politics after the state’s highest court ruled
last week that the rights of a dozen sex offenders had been
violated by Gov. George Pataki’s order to hold them in mental
institutions after completing their sentences. Pataki wants
to see sex offenders confined after their prison sentences
have ended, and he wants to see the legislation that would
ensure this passed before his term as governor ends in December.
Some say that his determination is fueled by a grudge. Others
say it’s political posturing for a presidential run. Still
others insist that it is an attempt to protect the safety
of young New Yorkers. No matter his motivation, Pataki has
called the state Legislature back for a special session on
Dec. 13 to try to hash out civil-confinement legislation.
The Senate and Assembly have separate versions of civil-confinement
bills; each passed their respective houses this year, but
no compromise was made. The sticking point is a provision
in the Assembly’s version that would see sex offenders facing
a jury after they are paroled to decide whether they should
face confinement. The Senate’s version of the bill has no
such stipulation and instead allows for offenders to go straight
into confinement. Members of the Assembly are concerned that
the Senate version does not provide for mental treatment for
Some feel a civil-confinement law in New York is simply inevitable,
but others, including Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari (D-Cohoes),
do not believe one is likely to be passed—or should be passed
during a rushed session.
think the Assembly bill strikes a balance,” he said recently.
“It’s reasonable. But part of me says we should defer to our
next governor, and I kind of think we will defer to the new
administration. We had a conference on this with the Senate,
and our differences could not be resolved. It is highly unlikely
we would resolve them in a one- or two-day special session.”
However, Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) thinks that it is part
of the Legislature’s duty to take action on the issue in the
wake of the judicial ruling.
would hope that there is a consensus. The Court of Appeals
had clearly spoken and said that the governor’s actions were
illegal, and when that happens, it adds to part of the public’s
feeling that we are dysfunctional if we don’t come together
quickly to make the proper reforms.”
Assemblyman James Tedisco (R- Schenectady) says the consensus
of need is there but something else might be missing. “No
one here does not agree that we need a bill to keep these
individuals off the streets,” he said. “What concerns me is
the debate hasn’t changed. We haven’t been able to do it in
the last 13 years, and I’m not sure by the governor calling
us back he can create the sense of urgency we need.”
Both Canestrari and Breslin favor a bill that would put some
of the decision in a jury’s hands. “We have to make sure no
matter whom it is, the individual’s rights are protected.
We can’t just unilaterally hold people beyond their sentence
without due process,” said Breslin.
Tedisco insists that the Assembly version provides too many
ways for offenders to avoid confinement and “gives offenders
two bites at the apple. When one jury system says, ‘Yes, we
find this person a dangerous sexual predator’ it baffles me
why we would need to go in front of another jury and say whether
this person should be civilly confined.”
A large number of mental-health advocacy groups insist that
the Legislature has its sights set on the wrong solution.
“It’s an act of desperation, really,” said Harvey Rosenthal
of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation
to research, only 6 percent of offenders are really formally
mentally ill. It’s a small amount. We have been arguing that
the mental-health system is not the place for offenders. We
believe that this policy is being rushed through without full
Michael Seereiter, director of public policy for the Mental
Health Association in New York state, said that there are
three issues that make his organization vehemently oppose
any form of civil-confinement legislation. The first issue,
said Seereiter, is safety.
are supposed to be providing services for people who are very
vulnerable. That provides some serious concerns for us that
are pretty obvious. It is tantamount to putting the predator
in with the prey, and it is a real problem. The second concern
is resources. It will cost millions—if not billions—of dollars
in this attempt to use this construct to place individuals
who have previous records of sex offense into state psychiatric
Seereiter said figures suggest it would cost $200,000 per
offender per year to confine offenders to state psychiatric
hospitals. Seereiter is also concerned with the number potential
number of those who might be confined because he says the
state’s program for classifying sex offenders is flawed.
now,” he said, “we are possibly defining an 18-year-old who
has sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend as a Level Three offender,
and possibly placing him in a psychiatric center for decades
or more.” The third issue that concerns Seereiter is that
throwing sex offenders who may not actually be helped by psychiatric
care into psychiatric wards stigmatizes other patients with
Tedisco, however, thinks he can address the concerns of the
mental-health lobby and perhaps by doing so bring the Assembly
and Senate together. He proposed confining offenders in “a
semi-corrective facility” where they would receive mental-health
is a stigma there and it is too dangerous to have them with
other individuals,” he said. “The two guarantees would be
[that] it wouldn’t be a mental-health facility, and there
would be a guaranteed minimum level of treatment that is deemed
to be valuable. That may be the compromise on both sides,
and then we could move away from the second jury system that
would give them a second bite at the apple after it has been
decided they do have a depravity and are a danger to the community.”
Seereiter said that if public safety is truly the concern,
then the approach of civil confinement is all wrong. “This
is a reactionary type of response to a societal problem. We
need more funding for the professionals and sex-offender-management
workers and advocates to do more on the front to prevent them
in the first place. We need funding so professionals can recognize
those who may potentially be exhibiting some sign that they
may end up committing an offense of a sexual nature and offer
a treatment option before it happens.”
loose ends this week-