I have been lying awake trying to solve the economic problems of the island I live on in my head. I did this all day also. This is not a new activity; I grew up in Newfoundland. I spent rather a lot of my youth on this issue.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell: Every dollar that we spend importing things needs to come from somewhere off the island. All three major industries of the area have closed down over the last 30 years, leaving call-centres and tourism as the only real sources of revenue. (The call centres are starting to close as well.) We have an abundance of land, water, wind, a deep harbour, forests, and a fair amount of skilled labour (from the previous industries). And we don’t seem to be able to get anything started. Half the people I know with university degrees (including graduate degrees) are doing volunteer work, farming, manual labour, or staying home with the kids because there’s nothing else for them to do. The major issue that faces the area is outmigration, particularly among the young, and particularly among the young and educated.
It’s so, so, so hard to say to people that are trying to just make a go of it… “Actually, part of the reason that there is no work here and your children are leaving is that you are shopping at Walmart/SuperStore/Home Depot.” It’s so, so, so hard to get anybody to listen to that. If you used to have forestry products made at home, and you start buying all your forestry products from off shore, the people who used to make them have to go somewhere else now. Contrary to what the economics textbooks tell you, they don’t just stay and think of something new to do. (They try, they really do. I’ve seen SO many retraining programs and make-work projects. I see so many people just scraping by, hoping that things will get better.) They also don’t go off to bigger and better things. These are not people that were yearning to get away; they left because they had to. We lose our community, our family connections, our sense of history, and our sense of place when we leave because we have no choice.
This isn’t a purely economic question; this is about community and connection. This is about our buying choices. But we need to look at the thing in our hand, and see the tendrils of connection that come off it, joining us to the people that handled it before us. Their life force connects to our own through the exchange. And maybe if we start to reconnect with those people, we can start making sure that some of them are people that we have looked in the eye.