As for Lib Dem Joe Otten's claim that our policies would be bad for business, we
are the only party to recognise fully the damage often done to the local economy
by inappropriate developments. This is why we vigorously opposed Sheffield's
Supercasino bid, and the current proposals for the New Retail Quarter and a new
market near the Moor.
The theme here is that according to the greens, there are two kinds of business. Local/small business which is good, and global/big business which is bad. The local economy must be protected from the global economy. So far so familiar.
Of course real life is not so simple. I am a one man business, which is good, but I sell all over the world, which, presumably, is bad. Although my product is transmitted electronically rather than by air freight, which is good. But it is software, so perhaps charging for it at all is bad.
Is the problem with the supercasino that it will damage all our small local casinos? I wonder.
Does this rebuttal deal with my unqualified claim that greens are hostile to business? Well no it doesn't. Big and small businesses each have their different strengths and weaknesses. Big business can pour resources into a problem. Small business can adapt rapidly, and know its customers. Each is successful where its relative strengths are decisive. Hostility to business in this case might mean refusing to recognise the benefits of this diversity and trying to impose a single model.
The bizarre thing about this belief in the moral superiority of small and local business is that it has very little to do with environmental sustainability - or - for that matter other social goods like wages and employment conditions. Why is it that greens are fascinated by what size a business is even more, seemingly, than how much pollution it generates?
Of course there are examples of good small business, contributing to civil society over and above what might be strictly necessary. And there are examples of bad big business. But the reverse examples can be found too. These examples mean very little - if you have a policy to deal with problem behaviour, shouldn't it apply equally to businesses of all sizes?
Now we do have some excellent local shops in Sheffield. One of the things that makes them excellent is that they must compete for trade. If everybody went only to their nearest shops, we wouldn't be rewarding competitiveness, we would be rewarding price gougers. Maybe you think your local shopkeeper is just too decent to gouge, and maybe they are. If so, that would be because gougers don't tend to run that sort of shop. If we rewarded them to, they would.
Wronger than the idea of protecting local business, however, is this idea of the local economy as the antithesis of the global economy. Almost all high value innovations demand a great deal of specialisation. Medicine, technology, art, you name it, to justify doing one particular thing very well indeed we need to be able to sell it worldwide. Cut off from trade it would be quite impossible to have much medicine, quality goods, never mind good renewable energy and so on. The way to build your local economy, then, is to provide goods and services in high demand and sell them as widely as possible. And with your earnings buy from elsewhere rather than trying to make do, or you will forego all the benefits of your earnings.
These are practical considerations which must trump a baseless prejudice for the small and local. Where this lesson has been learned - in much of Asia-Pacific for example - prosperity has followed. Yes, there is an environmental footprint to this - but imagine the alternative - of making do with cobbled together home grown versions of everything. If it were possible, wouldn't the environmental footprint be even higher? But it isn't possible, without specialisation and trade, to achieve anything like the standard of living people worldwide rightly demand. To try would condemn billions to poverty for no environmental benefit.