After Peter and I introduced the subject the inevitable – yet very good questions – were raised:
Great in theory….but how do we wean people off cheap imports – when they are already financially stretched beyond their means?
My response to this is my own experience that cheap imports for “essentials” are largely a matter of taste and social conditioning. Buying a few quality locally or NZ made items of clothing say rather than a wardrobe full of cheap low quality garments is, from my experience, actually a better economic choice.
Even at a larger scale – in agriculture say – it is more an issue of culture and habit that demands spending on high volumes of imported inputs than it is necessity.
Food? Again the quality gains of buying mostly from the Grower’s Market say more than offset any extra cost (and much of the food is actually as cheap if not cheaper). We just have to rethink the way we structure our tastes, lives and businesses around a more local model. It just takes a few of us to start thinking in terms of our buying and consumption patterns to start the trend in this.
The upside of training ourselves in this kind of thinking is that when we want something that we can’t source locally we will either start to rethink if we actually need it or start dreaming of ways that we could grow/produce that thing locally and come up with some amazing new businesses and employment opportunities (and that’s really what this site is about – a place to throw around these kind of ideas and network with others to develop them into feasible solutions).
How do you “fight” such an entrenched system like global free trade that has now become entrenched in our psyche?
Just finding ways to let people know that the current industrialised models for consumer goods are unsustainable and temporary is a good start. People don’t get this message much – they just imagine that the problems of production of food say have been solved and we can get on with more important things now. Soil depletion, global warming, peak oil, loss of fresh water and fisheries and a multitude of other factors point to not just the option but the necessity of local production.
The other argument is ethical; to sustain our high consumption global economy (unrealistically cheap goods) requires a massive low-wage work-force. The goods we get through global corporations are inevitably produced in countries where populations have been displaced from their communities (and often they are immigrants), working conditions are poor, labour regulations are a farce, environmental standards either don’t exist or are ignored. The ironic twist is that our raw materials are used (wool, timber, dairy etc) depriving our own people of work. Often the quality goods made from our materials are out of the price range of our own people (when was the last time you checked the price of a garment made from NZ wool?)
Generally globalisation has not helped the poor, but has exploited them, their communities and their land, water and seas – both overseas and here. Yes, fair-trade is a good idea and for goods we can’t substitute for locally produced items we should be buying fair trade – but the current reliance on cheap exploitive imported goods of almost all types is not only creating income inequality in the producing countries but is sending us down the same path – becoming just another cheap-labour, displaced-people, corporation-dependant economy.
We have to talk about these things and model different choices.
How do we change an entrenched culture of dependency both on government and corporations and see it as even possible to take back control of our own economic and social destiny?
Dependancy is not an easily broken mindset, but again it takes dreamers and visionaries to dream alternative futures. The story is told that in the Czech Republic prior to the fall of communism people would gather in cafes and bars and talk, perform poetry and music that imagined a different way of life – where people would not be in fear of their neighbours or children reporting them to the secret police and be free to practice their faith openly. Over time enough people simply stopped believing in the system and it could no longer sustain – the wall fell.
When enough people simply stop believing the utopian story of globalism and start taking hold of rebuilding resilient communities that look after their people, collaborate for good and share their excess with others – and this becomes a feasible alternative story – the balance of power will change.
How do we think we can possibly compete with global corporations on basics like food, energy, clothing and building?
Global corporations aren’t nearly as efficient as they pretend to be. The wastage, transport costs, unmotivated employees, dependence on expensive technology, unhealthy industrial processes, and massive investment in infrastructure means that they are lumbering giants that move very slowly, take years to change direction and crush what’s in their path without even realising it. Their commitment to return to shareholders is their achilles heel. They cannot really afford to be compassionate and care about issues of fair wages and sustainability (good luck to those who try though). They only survive by being so large that they cannot afford to fail – they demand subsidies and special treatment, they “buy” politicians and throw their toys out of the cot when they don’t get their way.
Local businesses linked into their community are able to respond much quicker to changes, provide a commitment to the community that is normally reciprocated in loyal customers, and provide a quality product from local materials and labour. As fuel and transport prices increase local businesses that are able to think outside the square and build a strong relationship with a savvy clientele can thrive (think Whangarei Growers Market for instance).
Another factor which will tend to make localisation more and more feasible is the growing trend towards low-impact, sustainable agriculture and horticulture – organics, permaculture etc. There is a rapidly growing demographic that cares about these things. Corporations can only give lip-service to this. The industrial-scale processes required by large corporations to be competitive are a direct contradiction to care, craftsmanship, and low-impact sustainable production.
Coupled with this we have the inevitable resistance to bulk transport of raw materials and finished goods that centralised and globalised production requires. The end of cheap energy for transport, the massive carbon imbalance in the atmosphere, huge packaging waste destroying the land and sea, means that one day we will look back on the insanity that we currently call the “global economy” and shake our heads in wonder. Now is the time to start imagining an alternative story.