It’s been a hectic week so each night I’ve been taking twenty minutes or so to relax with a completely marvellous book, Spitalfields Life by The Gentle Author. I’ve been a devotee of the blog of the book for some time, and this is a collection of posts by the anonymous author who is documenting one of my favourite areas of London in what is turning into an all time classic of social observation.
Many of the posts/chapters concern the small businesses and markets of the area. I’ve been forcefully struck by the difficulties of operating at a small scale. For example, a visit by The Gentle Author and Leila McAlister to Covent Garden Market to buy fruit and veg reveals Leila to be the only buyer looking for small quantities of seasonal crops – most are wholesalers looking for large purchases of consistent (and bland) produce. There are many other examples.
We have created an economy where only large scale is viable, which cannot be healthy. In almost any sector I can think of, a handful of very large firms have such economies of scale that only very small businesses clinging on around the margins can co-exist with them, and that’s tough anyway. Large scale does bring consumer benefits in the form of much lower prices than would otherwise prevail, in the products or services on offer; but also the large consumer detriment of a narrower range of products and characteristics. What’s more, an economy of giants whose shadow prevents any competition from growing to fruition is vulnerable over time to a loss of innovation and dynamism. As we are seeing.
So all thanks to The Gentle Author for this reminder, page after page, of what an alternative might look like.