Big Box Stores

The petty bourgeoisie provided services, like the smile of the shopkeeper, that simply cannot be purchased. Jacobs noticed that on virtually every block there was at least one shopkeeper with long hours whom residents asked to hold their apartment keys for out-of-town relatives and friends who would be using their apartment briefly while they were away. The shopkeeper provided this service when asked as a courtesy to his customers. It is impossible to imagine a service like this being provided by a public agency.

It is surely the case that "big box" stores can, owing again to their clout as buyers, deliver a host of manufactured goods to consumers at a cheaper price than the petty bourgeoisie. What is not so clear, however, is whether, once one has factored in all the public goods {the positive externalities) the petty bourgeoisie provides-informal social work, public safety, the aesthetic pleasures of an animated and interesting streetscape, a large variety of social experiences and personalized services, acquaintance networks, informal neighborhood news and gossip, a building block of social solidarity and public action, and {in the case of the smallholding peasantry) good stewardship of the land-the petty bourgeoisie might not be, in a full accounting, a far better bargain, in the long run, than the large, impersonal capitalist firm. And, although they might not quite measure up to the Jeffersonian democratic ideal of the self-confident, independent, land-owning yeoman farmer, they approach it far more closely that the clerk at Wal-Mart or Home Depot.

One final fact is worth noting. A society dominated by smallholders and shopkeepers comes closer to equality and to popular ownership of the means of production than any economic system yet devised.