Delivery bikes 1950s
Delivery boys in the 1950s

I wanted to follow up on our last post on cycling and business, by pointing out the that not only is cycling good for business but it is good for the (at least in my opinion) “right” businesses – local ones.

While online sales are hitting the retail sector hard, the great thing about cycling is that it encourages browsing through shops and helps out local businesses – not just malls in the exurbs. These are the small butchers, appliance stores, grocers and bakeries that our (great) grandparents took for granted. My grandmother (a mother of 10 children) would always cycle down (she never drove) to the shops in Christchurch for her shopping or have it delivered – sometimes by my father on his “butcher’s bike” (which always made Granville of Open All Hours a particular object of fun in our house!).

The growing inequality in the developed world (especially in the Anglophone world) is at least partly attributable to the growth of mega retailers. When shopping was local, the money flowed back into the local economy and helped the middle class (the engine room of any economy) directly enjoy the benefits of consumer spending.

1949 National Party poster - Private enterprise is great - but the roading policies of the 1950s soon drove this guy out of business
1949 National Party poster – Private enterprise is great – but the roading policies of the 1950-60s did their part to drive many such small businesses out of business

Cycling promotes this by moving more money back into your local economy – the people you hand your money over to will in turn be more likely to buy your goods and services (or those of your employer) – a virtuous circle that fuelled the great middle class boom of the 1950s to 1970s. It won’t be a large retail chain based overseas which constantly lobbies the government to stop wages rising (very successfully, by the way).

If you are interested in this topic of growing inequality, I would encourage you to read the book by the Cambridge professor of economics, Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism or watch the fascinating documentary Inequality for All with interviews with former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich (it’s worth watching just to see a Fox presenter call Warren Buffet a Socialist!).

Cycling of course cannot be expected to solve all that, but there’s an argument that it helps in rebalancing matters a little bit, by making it easier to do the “right thing” and shop locally. It also reduces transport costs for lower income families.

Inequality gap graph
Growing inequality – the rich get richer


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