- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2000

A side effect of globalization is descending on my hometown. Nestled gently between the manicured magnificence of McLean and the imminently overdeveloped Route 7 corridor rests the bucolic village of Great Falls, where, unlike Washington, there are an equal number of horses and horses' arses until last week. Then, the latter increased by one without benefit of being accompanied by the former. Enter the new landlord of our village shopping center, who has refused to renew the lease to Buddy and Beth Harris' coffee shop Gilette's.

The gentle villagers of Great Falls are developing ungentle feelings toward the intruding new landlord. Thus arises my little hometown's own microcosm of the darker side of economics without borders.

The out-of-state landlord wants to put in a Starbucks outlet for reasons exogenous to the community. To do so, he must first put Buddy and Beth's local shop out of business.

But Buddy and Beth aren't just in business, they are in the community. For as long as anyone can remember, they have been sponsoring local little league and soccer teams. They keep open Halloween night to give cookies to the kids. They are vital participants in the numerous civic projects that small towns across America (and around the world) need to keep their little communities whole and healthy. They have turned their coffee shop into the crossroads of the community. In the Humphrey Bogart movie, "Casablanca," everybody goes to Rick's (the original title of the film). In Great Falls, everybody goes to Gilette's.

Of course, no letters of transit or exit visas are being traded there. Quite the opposite. The community is busy passing petitions around to stop the forced exit of Beth and Buddy from the community they have done so much to form and strengthen. So fierce is the loyalty of the community to Beth and Buddy, that boycotts of the entire shopping center are already being organized.

That loyalty has been earned, both by their community participation and their product. The pastries are baked fresh each morning. The coffee beans are roasted in the store not at some factory in Seattle. The milk is frothed fresh for each drink, not processed in bulk and left to flatten in large steel canisters. It's the best coffee in town at a price that beats Starbucks.

There is, presumably, nothing illegal about the real estate managing firm developing national or international business deals with the latte behemoth, Starbucks (although one never knows what future litigation may reveal). But Americans, as well as others around the world, will increasingly resent the grinding down of their communities by large, alien economic interests.

For those of us who strongly believe in free markets and the free flow of capital around the world, incidents like this Great Falls Coffee Shop Massacre, force us to come to grips with the dystopian potential of unbridled free markets. When the virtues of civic pride, saving, professional excellence, respectability and community participation are punished, rather than rewarded by remote economic forces, something isn't right. It is revealing that a community like Great Falls is rising up against an alien and hostile corporation. After all, in Great Falls these days AOL and Oracle millionaires outnumber stray cats. Dot-com millionaires in their Porsches brake respectfully for Dot-com zillionaires in their Ferraris. (My family was grandfathered into Great Falls we moved here before Al Gore invented the Internet and when the Nasdaq was at 353.)

Of course, Great Falls is an historic village, going back to George Washington's time. A Civil War army encamped on what is now our farm and the farm next door. But the wealth that has come here has largely been managed locally great mansions, built by the occupants, sit next to modest homes. Our local organizations have guided our development.

Now, suddenly, a community that has prospered by its inter-connectedness with the larger world is being stung by that same force. Perhaps, given the strength of the community, the hostile economic forces may be turned back this time. But it should be a lesson to all of us that as we continue to prosper from global commerce, we should strive to protect for ourselves, and for others around the world, those small human features of life that turn a house into a home, and turn a pile of bricks into a community.

Even Adam Smith, the seminal author advocating free global trade ("The Wealth of Nations," 1776) first argued in his book, "The Theory of Moral Sentiment," that the Christian ethics of altruism and cooperation were the foundation of a society.

The late Prof. Robert Nesbit astutely pointed out that Adam Smith believed that only because the social order has been cemented securely by the values and institutions springing from altruism and cooperation that an economic system driven by enlightened self-interest is possible. Beth and Buddy's coffee shop and the thousands of similar human connections around the globe are exactly the sort of moral institutions that Adam Smith warned us to protect even as we encourage free markets.



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