In making things always bigger and more centralised, we make them both more vulnerable in themselves and more dangerous to everything else. Learn, therefore, to prefer small-scale elegance and generosity to large-scale greed, crudity and glamor. (Wendell Berry)
A Resilient Economy
In order to fix our economy we should recognise the direct link between community well-being and economic well-being. These two concepts have historically been split – one the domain of Socialists and the other of Capitalists – but good economics recognises that “prosperity” that fails to take along the weakest members of society surely isn’t sustainable.
This split has been driven by certain ideologies. Ideologies drive policies and practices. These practices have then exacerbated the social problems that undermine our societal well-being and cripple our economy.
My premise is that in our present context these ideologies are outdated and need serious re-examination. I am not advocating social concern that produces dependency and a sense of entitlement but rather an empowerment resulting from considering the community rather than the individual as the basic economic cell.
One of these outdated ideologies has been the drive to centralise. A carry-over from the Industrial Revolution, centralisation has been felt here most forcefully from the 1980‘s onwards. The move of work and population to larger cities for the sake of “economies of scale” has drained resources, jobs and hope from our smaller communities. The closure of local dairy factories, freezing works, fish processing plants, mills, mines and accompanying service industries and schools has all but killed small communities. It has also forced increased reliance on fossil fuel for raw material transportation – milk and timber primarily – away from these communities.
Conversely our cities have witnessed the fallout of children, youth and families being dislocated from safer, more caring communities – violence, drug abuse and neglect.
How could we reverse this trend? By utilising technology that makes it is possible for new enterprise and production to operate back in smaller centres and rural areas, producing not just goods for consumption in the local community but specialist finished goods for distribution.
Along with reducing the need for massive spending on city infrastructure this would allow our young people to again have the opportunity to be educated and find work and purpose within their home communities where owning a home becomes more affordable and the cost of living is lower.
Local niche industries and micro-enterprises would combine new technologies and traditional craftsmanship to develop locally produced raw materials into finished goods, reducing the need for bulk raw material transport. Support industries, social structures and wealth would return back to our small towns. Jobs would be available, the reliance on criminal activity for income would decrease and hope would return.
Centralisation is linked to the concept of monoculture – the cultivation of a single crop or agricultural output on a farm or in a region or country. Globalisation theory asserts that economies should focus on what they do best, and do this as efficiently as possible.
Such extreme specialisation requires very fluid movements of capital, labour and materials. This concentrates power into the hands of global corporations, causes serious social dislocation through job loss and displacement and is costly in terms of transport.
Monoculture leads to environmental damage caused by the chemical and biological inputs necessary and the methods used to sustain such intensive farming practices. It also tends to leave communities very vulnerable in times of war, natural disaster or economic meltdown when they are left without a varied enough economy to survive.
A decentralised model with bio-diverse local production and local manufacturing of raw materials into finished goods puts the power back into the hands of the community and it is much more environmentally sustainable. A full variety of food is grown locally that is fresher and healthier. There is much less exposure to the control of multinational chemical, seed and GE industries that intensive monoculture requires.
Globalisation ideology has driven manufacturing to low-labour-cost overseas economies. Not only are jobs lost in our economy (with the huge social cost that entails) but essential basic skills are lost to our people.
Where are the jobs for our young people who love to work with their hands and make things? Not all our young people aspire to get University degrees and be part of the “Knowledge Economy”. Why should they? Bringing back local production of raw materials into quality finished goods addresses this. Why not just stop buying overseas produced goods when there are local alternatives? Why not develop local alternatives?
Why not, for example, process local materials into clothing? Flax (both native and linen flax), wood-pulp and hemp (the kind without the THC boost) are all natural fibres that along with wool, leather and fur could be processed locally into finished goods. The possibilities are as large as our imaginations.
One of our major import dependancies is on fossil fuel. This is a rapidly depleting resource and a major contributor to environmental damage, so why not look at ways to remove our reliance on it completely?
Rather than just thinking about how to keep our current transport networks going without imported fossil fuel why not step back and consider ways to reduce our need for such an intrusive transport system? Why should our lives revolve around cars and trucks? Decentralisation and local manufacturing of raw materials could take a massive load off the transport infrastructure so that we may not need to pour the proposed billions of dollars into new roads.
What about making safer cycle-ways in our cities? Electric bicycles? What about new technologies for locally made trains and for coastal shipping of freight and people? These could add variety, colour and beauty to life. Surely we can use technology to start seriously developing people-friendly, environmentally-friendly alternatives to fossil-fuel based transport?
To summarise, our economic well-being cannot be divorced from our social well-being. If we look after our communities then sustainable prosperity will result. So why not shift perspective to an attitude that we are only doing as well as the weakest member of society? As an entrepreneur do I have the power to create jobs in my local community rather than outsourcing to China or India? What can I buy locally that I could obtain more cheaply from overseas but choose not to?
This a more collaborative and sustainable form of economics. On a practical level this can take place through considering de-centralisation away from our large cities and local production/consumption where possible. Diversity of production, local niche-manufacturing of raw materials based around micro-enterprise further reduces our reliance on imported goods – especially fossil fuels.
In a more collaborative, caring community the need for such an intense regulatory environment falls away, trust develops, anxiety levels fall, social dislocation decreases, people do better and true prosperity grows.