Reading “Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World” by Peter S. Goodman left me despairing the power and greediness of a select group of billionaires until I neared the book’s end. One of the final chapters, titled “The Money is Right There in the Community,” restored my hope and faith in the belief that options exist to make a positive difference in this world, and perhaps more importantly, in our community.
The book also made me realize that the community health aspect of the Los Gatos Community Health and Senior Services Commission, of which I am a part, is broader in meaning and embraces more of a responsibility than just operating with a focus on improving the mental and physical health of our residents. Instead, it can also include looking at and improving the overall health of our town as an economic entity. The pertinent chapter in the book provides a few examples of how to overcome Davos Man and restore a community’s vibrancy.
Like many towns and cities in the United States, Preston, Lancashire County, in northwest England, saw its industries (in this case, the textile industry) move to lower-wage countries, causing factory closures and massive joblessness to occur. The town’s response to the dramatic downward spiral of its fortunes was to create a plan designed to keep wages, tax revenues, and savings cycling through the town’s economies.
The plan involved local government entities transacting as much as possible with businesses in the town. The school district hired a local contractor to supply meals to its schools. The contractor in turn purchased meat and produce from nearby farmers. Residents shopped in surrounding businesses rather than giving their money to companies controlled by faraway shareholders and billionaires. The plan resulted in a jump from 5% to 18% of spending in the town of Preston and a jump from 39% to 78% of spending in Lancashire County.
The Preston Model, as it came to be known, was a remedy to austerity soon implemented elsewhere. The Lancashire police department, which had been decimated by necessary austerity measures, stipulated as part of the bidding process for construction of a new police headquarters in Blackpool, that “social values” would be prioritized. Bidders were favored if they were local, if they hired young apprentices, and if they recognized trade unions.
The winning firm, while based in Manchester, was required to spend at least 80% of its budget within Blackpool. A halted shopping mall project became a monument in Blackpool, to the Preston Model as the council renovated the old market and included a fish counter, a butcher, a pub offering local beers, and coffee outlets.
Los Gatos is a thriving town with residents strongly supportive of community cohesiveness and local merchants. However, this situation will not necessarily last forever. Moreover, our town’s enviable position does not mean we cannot benefit from being ever mindful of the benefits of embracing the Preston Model.
Although we have a general plan for our town, intended to address the town’s needs and concerns for years to come, it is worthwhile to keep in mind a simple thought: our community thrives when we support one another emotionally as well as financially. Buy what you need at local stores and hire local workers when possible. A community garden constructed in the plans for our town, should, if possible, be completed with the use of local workers. A senior center may perhaps be improved or constructed from scratch with the services of a local contractor, local construction workers, and local building materials and supplies. The possibilities are there; we just need to be creative and persistent in pursuing them.
If we remain vigilant, Los Gatos will continue to thrive economically, which concurrently will assist our residents in thriving emotionally and financially. Otherwise, I am concerned we may suffer the experience of towns like Liverpool and numerous other towns in our country still struggling to pull themselves out of their downward economic spirals.
While I can probably have a civil conversation with a billionaire, I sure as heck do not want them ruining the wonderful town I call home, when it is within our collective power to keep them at bay.
Jeffrey P. Blum is a family law mediator who lives in Los Gatos.