Okay, so I finished Dean Baker's book last night, and it's good. Really good. You should all read it, if you can bear 100+ pages of economics literature. On the plus side, it's surprisingly clear and accessible. So download it here (PDF) and read it.
There's too much good stuff in there to pick one example of, but one of the things that's been bothering me lately is the leftish and greenish fetish for small enterprises. When Republicans talk about "small businesses", we should all keep our hands on our wallets. But I worry about the left version of this fantasy, too. There's this vision out there - one I've shared, on occasion - that we can rebuild the economy in a way where the market is dominated by small producers and open distribution networks. This would, the plan goes, eliminate the monstrous, gigantic corporation, clearing the way for the worker/environment (take your pick) to flourish. Call this vision the world without Wal-Mart.
Now, like I said, I've shared this vision on occasion. But the more I think about it, the less convinced I am of its viability in the real world. Economies of scale are real things, and it's hard to imagine a world where basic economic laws didn't apply. Food is just one example - the economies of scale from massive farms are obvious. Yes, this is an unsustainable form of agriculture. But we have to ask: is the next agricultural paradigm (hopefully, a sustainable one) going to succeed without the same economies of scale? I don't see it.
(Like everything on this blog, I welcome correction.)
Now, there are counter-examples. Energy is one area where it might be possible for a substantial fraction to be generated locally, via solar or small wind. If advanced batteries take off, a person or small business could conceivably make and store enough energy for their home or office. But there's still going to be a need for large generation in one form or another for the foreseeable future.
But what we're unlikely to see - unless fabbing takes off, I suppose - is small business industry taking the place of large enterprises. That being the case, progressives need to think of ways for us to arrange large enterprises in ways that don't inevitably lead to the kind of destructive tendencies we see everyday from the McDonalds and Walmarts of the world.
Fortunately, a lot of people have already been thinking about this stuff. My suggestions: Read up on the Mondragon Cooperatives and other alternate corporate forms. If you're more inclined towards fiction, read the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, or his earlier book Pacific Edge.