Acton Institute Powerblog

Front Porch Economy: The Power of Simplicity

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The global economy is ever-growing in its complexity and interconnectedness, leading to a range of positive and transformative effects. Yet even as this web of human relationships expands and intensifies, many of the latest innovations are prodding us back to the simple and personal.

Whether we look to the various offspring of the “sharing economy” (e.g. Uber, Airbnb) or the range of bottom-up trading tools and crowdfunding platforms (Craigslist, Kickstarter), we see an eager appetite for simple and direct exchange.

In some reflections on his neighborhood’s online community marketplace (“The Swap,” as it’s called), Chris Horst notices much of the same:

In our neighborhood, we call the informal front porch marketplace The Swap. On the Swap, facilitated by a simple Facebook group, we both buy and sell. We’ve sold old iPhones, clothing, housewares and just about everything else. It’s a neighborhood Craigslist. In an increasingly complex global economic ecosystem, this simple exchange serves as a refreshingly simple model.

We live in an age when we can read thousands of reviews about hundreds of different spatulas, proceed to pay for the chosen spatula through a range of virtual payment methods, and have it boxed and delivered to our doorstep the next day. It’s efficient enough, but it’s not nearly as fun nor as straightforward as snagging killer deals on The Swap. It’s strange, but my favorite way to buy and sell is through exchanging cash for goods, via a front porch honor system. Said another way, medieval bartering is back.

Perhaps the simplicity of The Swap can be applied in other areas of our global marketplace? Not the front porch trading, of course, but the underlying principle of simplicity.

As I’ve noted previously with regard to Craigslist, these simple tools are welcome counterbalances to the glories of the global economy, if only for their effect on our imaginations. When buying a cheap gallon of milk at the grocery store, it can be easy to forget that in the end, this is all thanks to human relationships. There’s something special about simple, hum-drum exchange that reacquaints our imaginations with basic beauty of it all, cutting through and tearing down whatever zero-sum mythologies we may be constructing.

But as Horst goes on to highlight, in the specific context of the healthcare industry, these shifts aren’t just beneficial in reacquainting us with the beauty of trade. They offer real lessons and examples that can be applied to those corners of the economy that have suffered, not thrived, as a result of increased connectivity.

Indeed, the newfound appreciation for the basic and mundane is not just something to enjoy and reflect upon. It’s a wave that may help push simplicity where it’s still desperately needed.

“Near limitless opportunities for exchange abound in our society,” Horst concludes. “Still, the market is ripe for leaders who can leverage boundedness. They distill complexities and ambiguities, making sense of the vast information and opportunities surrounding us. In retail, healthcare and urban ministry, today’s leaders will make the complex simple.”

Read his full post here.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.