...moving toward the benefits of working at a smaller scale, with ownership in place in the community, and with methods and products that address our actual needs.
By now it is fairly well known that supporting the local economy is good for the environment, and that it is good for building community. Let’s take a look at another part of the localization picture: economic security. With the recession that started in 2008, we have all experienced changes and difficulties. It is easy to hope that things will get back to normal sometime soon and times will be easier. At the same time, if “back to normal” means depending on the wasteful and unstable economic paradigms of the past, it is hard to believe we will be getting anywhere. Why aspire to getting back to what didn’t work the first time? We are experiencing insecurity now because the systems we have created are flawed.
A problem is that we have assumed that cheap transportation, cheap fossil-fueled energy, and cheap food are always going to be there. We’ve based our sense of prosperity on the gyrations of abstract financial “investments” that are really just speculation. We’ve forgotten about actually producing the things that we need.
If we want to change things for the better, an extremely important piece of the puzzle is working toward greater localization of the production of vital goods and services. As things stand now, the supply of many of our most critical needs is largely centralized, globalized, and under the control of amoral corporate entities. This may be OK when what you care about is getting the lowest price on some standardized item at a big box store. It is not so good if communications and especially transportation were to be disrupted by world events over which we have no control. Even if we don’t assume there will be some series of catastrophic global events any time soon, we are in a dangerous position when we depend on nonrenewable energy sources from far away, manufactured goods from overseas, and employment from large corporations with strictly bottom-line priorities.
The notions of decentralization and localization are very much in keeping with the message of E.F. Schumacher’s classic work, Small is Beautiful. Schumacher advocated an economics of respect for the land and environment, for human values, and for the long-term efficiencies of what has come to be called sustainability. As we look at prolonged recession and the uncertainties of a fragile global economy, we need to see sustainability not as some highly abstract goal, something that “would be nice if the economy gets better.” Instead, we need to see it as the actual guiding principle in making the economy get better.
When we look at the vibrant farm economy, the efforts around renewable energy, the rich network of locally owned businesses, and the enthusiasm for a vital localized economy, we can be happy that the work is underway.
One of the key components of sustainability is localization. This doesn’t mean cutting ourselves off from the vast diversity and efficiencies of a global economy. It means moving toward the benefits of working at a smaller scale, with ownership in place in the community, and with methods and products that address our actual needs. And among the major benefits of decentralization, if you think about it, is security. If you are an owner, or part owner, of the business you work in, it may be tough going, but you do have job security. If local essential services are under local control, not only will there be concern and responsiveness to the community, but those services will be far less vulnerable to disruption.
Really making the changes needed for regional economic security is a tall order, and we have a long way to go. But significantly, it is something we can actually accomplish. It does not depend on political breakthroughs in Washington or Albany particularly, nor does it depend on changes of heart in the boardrooms of international corporations. It does depend on vision and determination from those who recognize the seriousness of what we face, both short term and long term. And as we look at the immediate situation, maybe the recession could be seen as a chink in the armor of our complacency.
Even as we look for new ways to navigate the post-industrial economic landscape, we can take satisfaction in the groundwork that has already been done. Indeed, refocusing the economy in more sustainable and local terms is a process that has deep roots in these parts. When we look at the vibrant and developing farm economy, the many efforts around renewable energy, the rich network of locally owned businesses, and the general enthusiasm for a vital localized economy, we can be happy that the work is underway. It is work well begun. May it continue, with urgency.