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Economic Alternatives

Follow the Money
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It's easy to think about the economy as how much money can be hoarded up in one place. But economy is actually about the movement of money through our communities and the world. Whether it's deposited in a bank or credit union, spent at a store or restaurant, given away as a donation, or loaned to a friend, our money is going somewhere and something is being done with it. Let's follow the path of several $50 bills to see what impact they have.

1. Big-box store for back-to-school supplies
It is late summer and you are preparing your children to go back to school. You go to Walmart and buy pencils, pens, erasers, glue sticks, and scribblers for your two children. At the last minute you decide to splurge on a new shirt for your daughter. At the check out the total comes to $50. That's a lot of money but not bad for what you get.

What happens to your $50?

Well, most of it goes to Walmart Stores, Inc., an American-owned mega- corporation whose annual sales are equal to the entire budgets of more than 60 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. A much smaller amount of the money goes to Walmart's suppliers and members of your community who work at your local Walmart store. An even smaller amount goes to the overseas factories in which the items are produced. And a still smaller amount goes to the people who actually produce the purchases you take home.

The only part of your $50 that stays in your community is the bit paid to the employees of Walmart.

2. Neighbourhood store for building supplies

You are doing some home repairs over the weekend and you need supplies. You walk to the nearest hardware store which is owned by Sheila, a woman who also lives in your neighbourhood. You buy some plaster, screws, and paint. The total comes to just over $50.

What happens to your $50?

Some of the money goes to pay for the operation of Sheila's business including salaries for Sheila and her employees. Sheila uses part of her salary to buy bread from the bakery next door and cleaning products from the local grocery store. The owners of these stores in turn reinvest their profits into the community. Some of the profits from Sheila's business are invested in future developments like a larger storefront (contracted out to a local building company) but Sheila also donates profits back to her community. For example, the local art drop-in centre receives lots of paint from Sheila. Sheila also uses profits to hire local youth clubs to do jobs like cleaning windows or shovelling snow in the winter.

Most of your $50 has stayed within your community. In fact, the $50 you invested in your community became worth more than $50 as it passed from Sheila to the bakery, the building contractor, the art centre, and the local youth club.

3. Used clothing store for kids' clothes
You live near the small Interlake town of Riverton, Manitoba and your children need new clothes. There are no big clothing stores in Riverton; in fact, the only place to get clothes is at the MCC Thrift Store. Sometimes you feel badly dressing your kids in second-hand clothes and the oldest ones complain a little bit. But they grow out of their clothes so fast that it doesn't make sense to buy new clothing every year. And the clothes at the MCC Store are so cheap. You and your kids spend an hour looking through the racks, trying clothes on, and deciding what you want to take home. You buy a big bag of clothes for each of your three kids and some toys and stuffed animals for only $15. Your kids look happy. As you're leaving you see a nearly-new dining room set for only $35. You can't believe your luck as you'd just been telling your husband that the old one was too small for your family. You decide to buy it. You go to the counter and pay $50.

What happens to your $50?

A small amount of the $50 goes to the maintenance and operation of the store. Since the store is run by volunteers these costs are very low. The rest of that $50 goes to MCC development projects all over the world including income-generating projects for women. For example, one project buys coconut saplings for women in India. $1.50 purchases 6 saplings which after 3-4 years will produce 50-75 coconuts that the woman can sell in the market. Imagine how many saplings can be purchased for $50 and how much income that will provide for poor women in that country.

Most of your $50 leaves your community but it reaches people in need all over the world.

4. Savings account at a credit union
You're 15 years old and just got your first job working at a child care centre in the after school program. At the end of your first week you receive your first pay-cheque of $50. On Saturday morning you and your mom walk to the local credit union to open an account and deposit your money.

What happens to your $50?

Your money goes into the coffers of the credit unions and is used to make loans. Most of the loans are to individuals, like your neighbours who just bought their first home. Some loans are also made to businesses, mostly small businesses within your province. Your particular credit union also invests part of its profits into your local neighbourhood. Some of your friends have gotten jobs in youth building projects supported by the credit union. Credit unions also use their profits to provide lower-priced services to members - like you.

Since credit unions distribute money to their members, most of whom live near-by, most of your $50 stays to work within your community.

5. Donation to a non-profit organization
You have grown up in a family that has valued tithing or giving away part of the money you earn. When you get your first job you decide to start regularly donating to non-profit organizations. You make a $50 donation to an organization called LITE (Local Investment Towards Employment).

What happens to your $50?

LITE was formed as an alternative to the traditional Christmas hamper system. LITE delivers hampers to the Christmas Cheer Board (which distributes hampers) but buys the products for those hampers from inner-city businesses. Half of your $50 donation goes to buy foods from Neechi Foods Community Store that provides work for inner-city residents. The other half of your donation goes to another local initiative, the Andrews Street Family Centre Catering service - a catering business started by women at a local community centre. This service also provides quality work opportunities in the inner-city where jobs are scarce.

Your $50 provides the gift of food to families in need over the holiday season as well as quality employment for inner-city residents over the rest of the year. And because your $50 was a donation, some of it also comes back to you at tax time (provided you pay taxes).

Toronto Dominion Bank6. A bank account
You have been working at the same job for many years and have deposited many multiples of $50 in your account at the bank up the street. Some of your money is used to pay for groceries, rent, and other necessities. But some of it you save and hope to use during your retirement. In the meantime…

What happens to each $50?

Well, banks invest and loan the money they receive for safe-keeping. While some banks are starting to have ethical investment options, most do not. It's hard to trace the exact path of the money but mainline banks in Canada have been known to invest in such activities as clear-cutting in Canada and the Amazon, the arms trade, industries known to exacerbate climate change, mega-pharmaceutical companies that monopolize drug availability, and mining companies that destroy Indigenous land. At the same time banks are well-known to make loans for mega-projects in developing countries, projects such as mining, logging, and building dams and large pipelines. Many of these activities have devastating consequences on citizens while the profits of these activities often go to dictators and are used to buy arms. (See The Economics of War for more.)

Some of your $50 will go to shareholders and salaries of people who work in banks. However, a large part of the $50 is quite likely to end up in suspect activities which quite possibly have harmful consequences on both people and the earth.

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