Let's Make America Great Again

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I grew up in a time when Americans took pride in their ingenuity and know-how, a time when quality, integrity, and reputation counted, one in which your relationships with others in your business network and community were critical to both your industry’s health and your own income. The corporatization of America has largely eliminated this type of truly free enterprise. But it turns out that the most innovative and powerful economic networks in the world follow the same principles. Found from northern Italy’s industrial network to California’s Silicon Valley, these economic engines are built of numerous small, high-quality firms linked by a natural pattern of cooperation and niche building.

Called “flexible manufacturing networks,” such networks achieve tremendous economies of scale through large collections of small, symbiotic enterprises. Most have only 5 to 50 workers, with a few more having one or two hundred. Because they are small, cooperative, and still connected to one another, such enterprises also tend to produce very sophisticated and high quality work. Innovation is high because personal creativity is a central theme and because partnership and craftsmanship are still valued. Quality is high because people care about integrity as well as profit. Creativity is high because workers and ideas circulate. Such circulation builds expertise, breadth of experience, and an invisible chain of valued human connections.

Such webs tend to grow and develop because breakaway enterprises spring up easily and often, as workers trained by existing enterprises move out to start firms of their own while retaining the past connections. Such spin-offs often collaborate with the older establishments because they share history and have related work. In this way, people in the network establish their own “coherent role in the web of processes,” while members, information, and expertise cycle easily throughout. As a result, advances anywhere tend to stimulate benefits everywhere. Members prosper in a synergistic, not a zero-sum way.

Such networks exemplify regenerative economics’ central premise – that economic vitality is primarily a function of healthy human networks. They also clarify that healthy human
networks consist of:

  • An intricate web of human expertise, material infrastructure, governing structures, financial flows, communication systems, learning systems, behavior patterns, and cultural systems…that have grown up together such that:
  • All elements play mutually-supportive roles in maintaining the vitality of individuals and groups at all levels of the social, economic and environmental whole.
Sally Goerner