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The Power of Local by Helena Norberg-Hodge

Power Of Local

As the weight of the global economic system bears down on communities and ecosystems – erasing diversity, degrading the environment, undermining democracy, and widening the gap between rich and poor – the world is at a crossroads.

While government policies continue to blindly follow outdated measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and skew regulations, taxes, and subsidies to favour highly unsustainable multinational businesses over local enterprise, a worldwide movement in the opposite direction is emerging as people come together to forge a different future.

If we want to create a liveable future, we need to rethink basic economic principles. We need to abandon the blind pursuit of so-called “economic growth,” which ends up benefiting only a small minority, and dedicate ourselves instead to the growth of thriving ecosystems, healthy communities, and meaningful livelihoods for all.

The essential first step in this process is to scale down and localise economic activity, with the goal of meeting our needs – our basic needs, in particular – closer to home.  While this does not mean an end to trade – not even international trade – it does categorically mean a U-turn towards supporting more diversified, localised economies.

As it is today, giant corporations are free to roam the world in search of new markets, cheap labour, and easily accessible resources; their allegiance is not to any particular place or people, but to the infinite growth of their bottom line, on which their survival in an increasingly competitive global market depends.

In localised economies, on the other hand, businesses belong to a place, and adhere to the rules of that place. In other words, society shapes business, rather than the other way around. Localisation is a real solution multiplier, with immediate economic, social and ecological benefits. Take the food and farming sectors, for instance.

Localising the agricultural economy allows small, biodiverse farms to provide for local markets, which encourages farmers to increase the variety of their crops, employ more people, and use less energy and fewer resources.

In fact, smaller-scale, localised production in general means less energy use and less pollution – particularly as we eliminate the redundant and wasteful shipping of identical products back and forth across the planet. What’s more, reducing the scale of the economy will enable us to reduce the size of government as well – making political leaders more accountable and amplifying the voice of the ordinary citizen.

In more human-scale economies, people are more connected to each other – something that, as we are increasingly realising, is crucial to our well-being. 

In contrast to images of distant media stars and airbrushed fashion models that all too often promote feelings of self-hatred, anger, and resentment, the role models of the future can be real flesh-and-blood people from within the community (as, of course, they have been for the vast majority of human history). And while the increasing scale of the economy systematically separates us from nature, going local will make it easier for us to experience our profound, inextricable connection to the living world around us.

Localisation is already happening. Without help or approval from governments or industry, millions of people are quietly demonstrating the potential for localised systems to provide for our needs without borrowing from future generations.

These include the vast and growing local food movement, local business alliances, community energy and local finance initiatives. They also include numerous movements, like Via Campesina, permaculture, transition town and ecovillage movements. Vitally, these grassroots projects have shown their ability to heal rifts between different generations, ethnic groups and socio-economic classes.
Our challenge is to bridge conventional left-right antagonism and speak with one voice. 

The message is clear: we need to replace today’s monolithic global economy with a kaleidoscope of vibrant local economies, which together reflect the extraordinary diversity of cultures and environments across the planet. This is the economics of happiness, or well-being – but if present trends continue, it will increasingly be the economics of survival.

Helena Norberg-Hodge has promoted the personal, social, and ecological benefits of local economies for more than thirty years. She is an author, filmmaker, and the founder and director of ’Local Futures’.

She will be teaching on the forthcoming short course Earth, Culture, Economy - The Power of Local 2018.