Imagine. Imagine it might be possible to set aside the great lie of economic strategy (trickle down patently doesn’t trickle; it hoovers up). Imagine the poorest areas could ride out a world recession. Imagine they were not forced to go cap in hand to big business or big bureaucracy to survive.
It is hard to over-estimate the impact on the world, and certainly on the UK, if we could find the techniques we need – to help neighbourhoods survive using their own resources.
It will clearly not make them rich, but it may keep them from being poor – and the difference that will make, if it works, in regional power dynamics would be profound
But is it possible? It would mean using the money better which is already flowing through the community. It would mean using the wasted people, land and buildings, the waste material – putting them altogether and - well, not wealth exactly, but enough economic activity to claw back some of their economic destinies.
The difficulty is that these economic techniques exist but, in the UK at least, they are in their earliest stages – usually based on community banking or community energy generation.
We can catch glimpses of what is possible in the efforts of local authorities like Enfield or Preston, looking at different ways of doing procurement. We can see it in the development of linked local food businesses in Vermont, or the community currencies for women entrepreneurs being rolled out by the Brazilian central bank
We need to develop these ideas, and I set out how in my report Ultra-Micro Economics, published today by Co-operatives UK. But there are three important blockages.
First, our institutions of regeneration, from the energy intermediaries to the high street banks, are designed for big institutions and find it hard to connect with small players. Try helping your village generate its own energy and things get difficult.
Second, there is a blind spot about economic regeneration in most local authorities. They don’t see it as their business, and this kind of learned helplessness – passive in the face of whatever disasters the global economy might throw at them – has been carefully nurtured by the Treasury for a generation, terrified of the spectre of the Bank-of-Our-Friends-in-the-North.
Third, there is a kind of snobbery among economic policy-makers about it, as if ultra-micro was all a bit too small to matter. Economic strategy has kudos and status; looking at money flows on the ground and how to make money connect more locally isn’t what they imagined doing. Money flows? It’s too much like plumbing for comfort.
But the real lesson is that small-scale matters. The ultra-micro approach transcends conventional right and left, just as it goes beyond the conventional distinction between free and controlled markets. But the real argument is about scale, if enough people and places are doing this, then - as they say in America - small plus small plus small plus small equals big.
It is up to our political thinkers (you know who you are!) to name this and run with it...