Decentralize Big-Retail

How to Uproot Walmart & Bring Jobs Back Home. 

December 11, 2012
(LocalOrg) – In many towns across America, Walmart, or a similar
mega-retailer, is the only option you have when you need (almost)
anything. Big-retail is a monopoly in its truest form and it has become
so, not through “free market” economics, technological innovation,
supply and demand, or healthy competition, but rather through a
combination of pro-monopoly rules and regulations, human exploitation,
outsourcing labor overseas, while preventing labor domestically from
unionizing for better wages, job security, and benefits. 

The
sub-par trinkets, poisoned food and beverages, and slave-made goods
that line the corporate consumer troughs at Walmart are the result of a
global network taking advantage of socioeconomic disparity, consumer
ignorance, and deplorable labor conditions to bring the very lowest
prices possible to consumers.

The consumers pushing
their carts through the aisles of Walmart scarcely realize the
conditions within which workers overseas toil to line those aisles. They
may not realize that the polo shirts they are buying came from
overcrowded, deplorable factories in Bangladesh, where a fire recently claimed the lives of 112 workers. The doors were locked, the fire extinguishers non-functional – conditions that would not be tolerated in an American factory.

These
aren’t “always low prices” because Walmart has mastered supply and
demand or production efficiency through innovation – these are “always
low prices” because people the average Walmart customer has no idea even
exist, are paying the rest of the price out of sight, out of mind.

Along
every step of Walmart’s supply chain, abuses, exploitation, deceit,
and harm is being done to both labor and consumers. The only
benefactors are the handful of shareholders and executives that run
Walmart – who live a life entirely isolated from the paradigm their
spanning monopoly has created. Below, an infographic depicts this supply
chain – starting at overseas sweatshops, brought through domestic ports where workers struggle for job security, fair wages, and benefits, and end up on the shelves of Walmart, where likewise, labor must struggle to improve their lot.

Wal-Mart Infographic:

WalMart's Deadly Sweatshops US Port Protests Food Inc. (Documentary) OURWalmart (forrespect.org) LocalOrg Website

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Additionally, many of the foods lining Walmart’s shelves are genetically modified, many come from factory farms
where crops and animals are overcrowded, laden with chemicals and
medications, and end up as literally poison on your dinner table. The
grocery aisles of Walmart are where big-agri converges with big-retail –
again to the detriment of both labor and consumers.

It
must also be remembered, that all of this exploitation and deceit takes
place within a vast global supply chain that uses freighters, trains,
planes, trucks, and automobiles to connect consumers with goods produced
around the world – using huge quantities of energy to move goods, keep
some within strict temperature requirements, and keep lights burning
24 hours a day, 7 days a week to allow consumers to come in and peruse
the selection. Perishable goods that pass expiration are simply thrown
out – packaging used to transport these goods around the world are
likewise disposed of as waste. If not anything else, it is inefficient
and wasteful.

Activism isn’t Enough: It is important to educate
people as to the real cost of their “always low prices.” However,
educating people alone is not a viable solution. The media industry is
also an abusive, exploitative monopoly. The ills of this industry had
their critics who ceaselessly promoted boycotts, but ultimately to no
avail.

It wasn’t until a technologically derived alternative,
peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, came along that people in large numbers
began to undermine the media industry – to the tune of billions.
People with no political opinion or awareness at all regarding the
music industry, for example, simply wanted their music for cheaper (or
free). Little argument was necessary to convince people of the merits of
sharing digitally.

The media industry lashed out (and still is),
with draconian exercises of its incestuous relationship with government
– the supposed representatives of the people – with rules and
regulations to reassert their monopolizing paradigm. However, like the
British Empire losing its grip on the increasingly self-sufficient, independent American colonies, the media industry is losing to this revolution.

The
lashing out turned many otherwise apathetic people, simply enjoying
cheaper/free media in the emerging digital paradigm, into activists, and
better yet, producers of content, and patrons of open-content to
completely escape the media industry’s reach. The result is an
alternative, parallel digital media paradigm that is increasingly taking
a larger piece of the market, while media monopolies shrink. The wealth
to be made in media is being distributed over a larger community of
producers and artists – not through wages or populist handouts, but
through entrepreneurship and collaboration.

Similarly, we
must look for such a solution versus all industry monopolies –
including big-retail, where nearly all of these monopolies seem to
converge.

A Local Alternative

It was innovative uses of new technology that eventually
began the decentralizing of the media monopolies. It will be innovative
uses of new technology that likewise begin the decentralizing of
big-retail.

Imagine, a city block, or several blocks, all
within walking distance, where you could obtain everything you needed,
produced and made available locally. Imagine if everything was made
either on demand, or made with an intimate understanding of the local
community’s needs in small runs. Imagine if the quality was better, the
price cheaper, the experience more satisfying, and with nearly everyone
in the community being self-employed. This is a paradigm that is
emerging – with options and lifestyles that will be so appealing,
apolitical people simply seeking the path of least resistance will not
need to be convinced to join in – just like with P2P, the benefits will
be self-evident.

The answer to Walmart, a place where you can buy (almost) anything –
is a place where you can make (almost) anything. Such a place was
imagined by MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld. Called a FabLab (Fabrication
Laboratory), it serves as the setting for a course literally titled, MAS 863 How To Make (almost) Anything.
In it is a collection of modern manufacturing machines – from computer
controlled mills and laser cutters, to 3D scanners, electronics
production equipment, and 3D printers – where students are taught
interdisciplinary skills ranging from engineering and programming, to
designing and art.

The machines found in the MIT FabLab are expensive, but many are
not beyond the reach of aspiring, local entrepreneurs. Increasingly,
many of these machines are becoming small enough and affordable enough
to fit on the average person’s desktop.

Professor Gershenfeld’s class expanded into a global network of FabLabs
focusing on education, local manufacturing, and turning the world’s
population from consumerist “sinks” into productive “sources.” The
concept of shedding our centralized consumerist paradigm for one of
localized production has expanded beyond the growing FabLab network and
made its way into the “maker community.”

Locally organized spaces where a similar collection of
tools and interests converge to accomplish many of the same goals as
MIT’s FabLab are called “hackerspaces” or “makerspaces.” These are not
standardized, and each one is as unique as the community within which
they spring up. Experimenting, education, research, and development take
place at hackerspaces, and occasionally an entire business model may
result. Community projects have also been undertaken by these emerging
local institutions.

The “maker” mentality has also
translated into the world of heavier industry – including car
manufacturing. Crowd-sourced car manufacturing serves as the basis of
America’s Local Motors, while local race car design, development, and manufacturing constitutes Thailand’s 999 Motorsport’s business model. The world of biology is also being transformed by this emerging paradigm – with local community “DIYbio” labs giving people a safe and secure place to study and develop local biotechnology.

Agriculture
as well is being “re-localized” by community gardens around the world,
both by necessity and as a political statement. Growing Power operates
an urban agricultural operation, producing crops and fish, while helping
others replicate their business model around the world. Other city
dwellers are taking advantage of under utilized rooftops, planting
gardens to produce fresh, organic vegetables. An emerging trend is for
restaurants to grow at least some of their ingredients on their rooftops
in a phenomenon known as “roof to table dining.” Food waste doesn’t go into the trash, but rather into the compost bin to be reused in the growing process.

Now imagine all of these ideas, along with localized education, communication infrastructure, farmers’ markets (and maybe maker’s markets or a combination of the two), locally sourced water (atmospheric water generators)
and many other ideas all combined within the confines of a single block
or village. You now have a living breathing, self-contained,
semi-insulated localized version of everything Walmart offers, minus the
sweatshops, cheap labor, wasteful global logistics networks, and all
the instability that comes with a globally interdependent socioeconomic
paradigm.  

A Local Alternative Infographic:

Growing Power About Local Motors Intro to Genspace Neil Gershenfeld on FabLabs Hackerspaces.org Farmers' Markets (Wikipedia) Roof to Table Dining Decentralizing Telecom Decentralizing Auto-Making AWG (Wikipedia) Vertical Garden, Singapore Hackerspace Directory DIYbio Directory Aquaculture - A How To Guide Localizing Education A Guide to Rooftop Gardening (.pdf) LocalOrg Homepage

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Decentralizing Department-by-Department: The answer to a global monopoly that sells (almost) anything – a local institution that makes (almost) anything. FabLab Amsterdam
leverages manufacturing technology and decentralizes big-retail’s
monopoly, department by department. It’s customized, it’s exactly the
quality and configuration one desires, to fulfill exactly the needs
required – in the localized-maker paradigm, you don’t settle for what
Walmart sources from cheap, foreign labor, you make exactly what you
want:

LocalizedDepartments_1 

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All the Junk at WalMart, But Better & Local:
Emerging local institutions aren’t just producing some of the more
mundane, and traditional items we require or desire, but also some of
the more complex and advanced items – some of which you can’t even pick
up from big-retail. Hackerspaces, localized business models, and FabLabs
have created electronics, 3D printers, furniture, cars, and even
laboratory equipment, including an open-source (OS) centrifuge and an OS DNA replicator – the OpenPCR system:

Fab Lab Boombox FabLab Airedale Local Motors 999 Motorsports Gogofuge - Open Centrifuge Makerbot

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Food, Exactly as you Want it: Groceries
– minus the additives, genetically modified poison, pesticides,
herbicides, and medication laced throughout – is the result of localized
agricultural business “Growing Power.” Leveraging modern technology and
a combination of agricultural techniques, Growing Power has managed to
take an urban setting and turn it into a cornucopia of food. It serves
multiple purposes – feeding, educating, and employing the local
community. It is but one of many possibilities that could be implemented
in cities around the world:

LocalizedDepartments_3 

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Possible Pitfalls 

Total
potential wealth is not finite. It is dependent on both our ability to
innovate new means of getting more from less, and making more accessible
that previously was beyond our reach. This can be done by simply
improving current processes, or by doing something as radical as moving
off Earth to gather extraterrestrial resources, as Planetary Resources plans on doing. 

Corporate
monopolies seek to control this pie, both as it is, and as it continues
to grow, while ensuring the vast majority of humanity has access to
less and less. The consumerist paradigm leaves the means of production,
logistics, and retail firmly in the hands of the monopolies, while
everyone else is either a consumer or an employee. 

Localizing, decentralizing, and
undermining these monopolies is the real revolution of our time. The
“Arab Spring” was manufactured to fulfill a human need to affect change
in the face of adversity. The monopolies are trying to channel the
backlash to increasing global disparity, by redirecting it into a
geopolitical struggle, one that in fact only widens the very disparity
people are increasingly becoming angry over.

Obviously
big-retail is not going to simply allow people to decentralize and
replace their vast monopoly. Big-business of all sorts have assembled a
multi-pronged attack including passing legislation aimed at regulating
out of business small start-ups with impossible-to-meet requirements
they themselves have no intention of meeting. They are also attempting
to simply make “illegal” any practice that threatens their antiquated
business models, e.g. SOPA, ACTA, and the war on file sharing. They have also attempted to co-opt, buy-off, and partner with these emerging “proto-local institutions.” And for now, it may buy them time. 

In the long run, Local Motors partnering with DARPA and other large corporations for competitions, or Growing Power accepting a $1 million dollar grant from Walmart, or any number of the many hackerspaces emerging around the world being co-opted
or shut down by the system, will not stop localization. The reason
these emerging institutions became known and wildly popular in the first
place, is because they satisfy a desire people have. They present a
viable model of future socioeconomics – one where the pie gets bigger,
and so does our access to it. If these emerging institutions falter,
others will take their place.

Image:
When local goes back to central. Local Motors crowd-sourced the design
of this vehicle for a DARPA “challenge.” The dangers of DARPA’s “crowd
sourcing” are discussed at length in, “The DARPA Vacuum.”

….

In
the world of technology and innovation, it appears that revolutionary
ideas aimed at challenging the system, if they become popular enough,
eventually turn into the very thing they set out against. Apple and
Microsoft both began as a reaction to established tech-giants. They have
already completed the full circle to becoming tech-giants themselves.
They are now part of the elite club keeping down or co-opting young
innovators. 

Likewise,
we will see many of localization’s pioneers grow and then collapse into
their own footprints – but not for long. As more people begin on this
journey, and as disparity diminishes, the ability to become big enough
to reach “corporate-critical mass” will likewise diminish. Walmart can
shower a million dollars onto Growing Power, but not on operations like
it emerging in every county of the United States. 

This
is not going to happen overnight. Just like P2P file sharing, the
corporations will hemorrhage billions, and overtime diminish. The
transition should be orderly, gradual, and allow the talent that
inhabits the rank and file of the largest corporations on Earth the
ability to “switch sides” and establish their own practices, firms,
design houses, fabrication shops, and other enterprises locally. We will
continue to build up our capacity, while we continue chipping away at
big-business and its capacity. Eventually there will be a tipping point,
one the monopolies will fight tooth and nail, with overt confrontation
and subtle subversion to prevent from going over the edge of. 

The
maker, hacker, DIYbio, local growing movements will exist no matter
what. Arming them with a complete picture of the true revolution they
are a part in, ensures that no matter what the monopolies do, that
tipping point is reached, and the monopolies soundly rolled over the
edge.