Let’s Have a Nation of Shopkeepers

The other day I was thumbing through Pigot’s 1839 Directory of Sussex (as one does) when I found that in Hastings Old Town there were once 5 operating bakeries on High Street and 8 on neighbouring All Saints Street. Now only Judges Bakery our new enterprise, survives. The rest of the bread comes from factories and supermarkets. While I don’t lament the absence of competition it does seem sad that where there were once a baker’s dozen of jolly bakers, there is now just one. Those bakers were jolly because they were part of what Adam Smith and later Napoleon described as a ‘nation of shopkeepers.’ Why England in particular? Is it something to do with the individualistic and freedom-loving temperament of this culture? Or is it a natural human instinct to favour things local, fresh, privately-owned and directly answerable? Shumacher argued eloquently in ‘Small is Beautiful’ that this was so.

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