Micromotives and macrobehavior


It is an indisputable fact that the Internet has transformed retail commerce. Many state legislatures are currently addressing (or have previously addressed) the loss of sales tax revenue that would otherwise enter more local coffers. As many of us are in full-tilt Christmas buying frenzy, it is fitting that we consider the consequences of being overly reliant on web merchants for holiday wares.

While we accept that there are many things that are just not available locally — a full-service bookstore comes readily to mind — we are also aware that local merchants offer a plethora of unique gift ideas and opportunities.

Moreover, we cannot simultaneously run to the computer or nearby towns while complaining about the local economic malaise. The old saying, “charity starts at home,” applies well. If we want the local economy to be more vigorous, then it is incumbent upon us to make it so. It’s not like a vast wave of non-residents will come in sufficient numbers to resuscitate the local economy if we don’t also pitch in to the effort.

While we may not have the vitality of downtowns past, The Pines mall is looking better than it has in years. There are many quaint specialty shops in shopping centers and otherwise across town.

At the peril of repeating the mantra too often: If we want more little quaint shops, we have to provide an obvious market for them. We need to give prospective business owners reason to believe they could open doors and anticipate success.

We must buy local, not only as a matter of convenience, but as an act of working toward becoming the town we all want to have. These businesses pay a lot of taxes and provide many goods and services that people regularly use.

This is not how towns grow and flourish. It is how we subsist.

To combat the stagnation of habit and negativity, we recommend that everyone in the market for Christmas gifts take a simple action: Buy at least one gift from a locally owned business that you might otherwise buy somewhere else. Just one gift — one gift that demonstrates how wonderful and unique our community is — one that demonstrates the best in us, our potential, our creativity, our collective merit.

This isn’t much to ask. It requires no grand magnanimous gestures, just one small purchase.

In the 1970s Nobel Prize winning economist Thomas Schelling wrote a book titled Micromotives and Macrobehavior. Its thesis was simple: Society is the collection of individual actions … acts prompted by individual (micro) motives. Taken in aggregate, these micro motives become a collective expression (macrobehaviors). Each person does a few small things toward becoming a better community and before long, we actually have a better community.

We foster a greater range of future purchasing options by exercising the ones we already have. Again, nothing overly grand, just a few simple acts toward the local common good. If ever there were a season for it, this is it. If ever there were a need for it, that too, is now.