BerkShares: Resisting Big-Box Retailers and Creating Economic Self-Sufficiency through Local Currency and Entrepreneurship

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: August 26, 2019
Length: 34 pages
Product ID#: 1-537-103

Core Disciplines: Economics, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Social Impact, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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BerkShares is a local currency in western Massachusetts and is a project instituted by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics and BerkShares, Inc., which seeks to foster local and resilient economies. Along with the BerkShares project is the Entry to Entrepreneurship (E2E) Program which aims to develop local entrepreneurs to create local businesses that serve the local economy. Both of these initiatives focus on helping the Berkshires region become as economically self-sufficient as possible. Ultimately, the vision is to create a local currency that is backed by a local basket of goods and not the US dollar.

Set in 2019, this case allows for a discussion of the impacts that big-box retailers (and more recently, online retailers) can have on the economy of small towns, generally damaging local businesses and the jobs, tax dollars, entrepreneurial spirit and civic leadership that they create. The case also explores what can be done to avert that outcome by examining the merits and success metrics of a local currency, the importance of a local supply chain of businesses, and the need for more self-sufficiency within local economies.

It is challenging to keep an economy truly “local” in today’s world and mechanisms like local currency face significant barriers to survive, much less scale, in a globalized economy.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Identify the economic impacts of large-scale retailers on local economies by probing their notions of macro-efficiency as the metric by which to measure success.
  • Recognize the costs and benefits of existing economic models, including the displacement of currency by multinationals and the need for business to consider individual communities, society and the environment.
  • Delineate the role of a centralized banking and currency system and how both can contribute to the decline of local businesses and economies.
  • Debate the costs and benefits of globalized versus localized economies.
  • Analyze the process by which a local currency is created and operated to forestall the realities of concentrated retail market power in a globalized economy.
  • Examine the process by which an organization can develop local entrepreneurs that can support each other by providing services that keep money within the local economy.