The Multiple Benefits of Economic Localization

2014 920 local stLocal produce on display at farmers’ market, Embarcadaro, San Francisco, California. (Photo: Bob Shrader)Despite the negative impressions we get from the mainstream media, and the very serious consequences of global warming, I believe there is cause for real hope. There is a good possibility that inspiring human-scale solutions around the world can multiply and transform our political and economic landscape over the coming years. And it all starts with an increased awareness or consciousness.

My experiences in numerous cultures over three decades, have revealed to me that most of our serious problems originate from a culture shaped by skewed economic priorities. We have been gradually ensnared in a global economic system that thrives on separation—cutting us off from one another and from nature. Unwittingly, we have ended up supporting an “Economics of Unhappiness.”

In part this is because, in the current system, it has become nearly impossible to support oneself doing meaningful work, like growing food, protecting the environment, or helping other people. Most of us are familiar with the glaring statistics of inequality around the world—CEOs often making as much as thousands of times the income of the lowest paid workers; jobless growth, outsourcing, and cut-throat competition. And, of course, the ever-lengthening work week and the high stress levels of workers everywhere. There are also the mounting costs of education, leaving many graduates with crippling debt. Overall, it is a daunting situation for young people aspiring to make a positive difference in the world, while still earning enough money to cover their basic needs.

Sadly, governments worldwide support a type of economic growth that favours global corporations, including banks and media companies. Yet globalised growth has not delivered on its promises of secure employment, prosperity or happiness. The real end result is an artificial scarcity of jobs as those in richer countries compete with cheap labour in low wage countries or impoverished migrant workers. Jobs become even scarcer as human labour is increasingly replaced by technology. The global growth model has been disastrous for people and the planet, with ecosystems and cultures being laid to waste. With rates of anxiety, depression and suicide rising steeply, we are seeing the profound psychological costs.

However, as I said above, this is not as bleak as it sounds. All around the world a movement is emerging for structural change—rebuilding local economies that provide truly meaningful work. Localisation is essentially a process of de-centralisation—shifting economic activity into the hands of millions of small- and medium-sized businesses instead of concentrating it in fewer and fewer mega-corporations. Localisation means communities would become more self-reliant—striking a balance between trade and local production by diversifying economic activity and shortening the distance between producers and consumers wherever possible. Localisation does not mean retreating into isolationism—global cooperation is vitally needed in order to create governance structures that enable local and national authorities to determine the rules for business, rather than allowing big business to dictate to governments.

For young people just entering the workforce today, one of the most powerful steps they can take is to join the emerging localisation movement. There is no better way to ensure secure and meaningful livelihoods than replacing the globalisation juggernaut with human-scale systems.

Localisation is both a process of resistance and renewal. On one hand, we need to resist further globalisation of the economy. Currently, a number of new so-called “free trade” treaties are being negotiated, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The meetings are usually shrouded in secrecy and are ostensibly between national governments; however, the representatives around the negotiating table are, more often than not, working on behalf of multinational corporations. Resistance here means insisting that any trade agreements be, first and foremost, for the benefit of communities, local economies, and the natural environment. Resistance also means opposing policies at local, regional, and national levels that discriminate against smaller enterprises and favour big corporations. One of the most powerful forms of resistance is awareness—informing yourself and others about the realities of economic globalisation—so we can create truly sustainable solutions.

Renewal emerges from implementing these solutions. Already, there are countless initiatives around the world putting localisation into action: Local banks and credit unions sustain and nurture the wealth of communities. Community Supported Fisheries offer a small-scale way for people to eat seafood and support fishermen without depleting fish stocks. School gardens teach children about taking care of their bodies and the earth through growing healthy food. Intentional communities bring people together to prioritize sharing and cooperation over anonymity and competition. Regional radio shows inform people about issues in their local communities, while international gatherings, like the World Social Forum, enable intercultural dialogues that help us to envision truly sustainable alternatives to the global economy. The Slow Food and Slow Money movements encourage us to slow down and take time for what is important in life—family, friends, food, creativity, time spent in nature, and so much more. It is from this fertile ground of flourishing local economies that meaningful livelihoods emerge. Because of the many personal and societal benefits of localisation, I call it the “Economics of Happiness.”

There are inspiring shifts at the individual level as well. We can seek out like-minded individuals with the goal of encouraging deeper connections, and creating a culture of sharing and caring. Nurturing a connection to nature, while quieting the chattering mind can deeply rejuvenate and inspire us. Chanting and singing, yoga and meditation can also help free us of the pressures imposed by the global economy. These personal changes are a crucial part of “awareness activism.” In this way, we can begin to make choices that are good for us as individuals, as well as communities and societies, enabling us to transition from an economics of competition, scarcity and exploitation to an economics of collaboration, abundance and happiness.