This book is one of those rare volumes that will change the spirit of our age. It is both practical and inspiring. Its inspiration comes from real~life success stories - accounts of communities that have taken their future into their own hands and brought back not only jobs, but real political power and community spirit. Its practical value lies in a clear analysis of the structures that support a community's economic base, and a description of the hands-on tools needed to strengthen it. In Short Circuit, Richard Douthwaite has undertaken the most extensive survey yet of community economics in the industrialized world.
To fully appreciate the significance of this book, we need to ask ourselves why everything we hold dear seems to be threatened. As individuals, we face increasing insecurity in our working lives, on our streets and even within our homes. As societies, we face a ruthlessly competitive global economy, the threat of armed conflict, and a biosphere stressed to the point of collapse. In the face of all this, governments and businesses offer us, at best, a tattered, decaying safety net. Short Circuit's encouraging message is that the security we need can be found in our own communities by developing our local economies.
But why are communities and families fragmenting? Why are thousands of species disappearing and the world's climate becoming ever more unstable? Why is democracy slipping away, and ethnic conflict, poverty, crime and unemployment growing day by day? The root cause of all these problems often evades even the most intelligent and well-intentioned examination. The world economic system has become so complex, and the attitudes that it has given rise to so all-pervasive, that we now find it is extremely difficult to gain a clear perspective. However, there is a common thread running through these seemingly disparate crises: namely, a system of production and distribution that depends for its survival on endless expansion. This continuous growth has led to economic globalization, which essentially means the amalgamation of every local, regional and national economy into a single world system.
Economic globalization is not the result of superior economic efficiency. It is coming about because governments have been subsidizing international and long-distance trade for nearly two hundred years without stopping to assess the impact on society and nature. It is only through tax breaks, cheap fuel, and massive investments in the underlying transport and information infrastructure that apples from New Zealand displace French apples in the markets of Paris, European dairy products destroy local production in milk-rich Mongolia, and Dutch butter costs less than Kenyan butter in the shops of Nairobi. Even a child might ask, 'Why must food be transported thousands of miles, when it can be produced right here?' This is not efficiency but economics gone mad.
Globalization has also led to the growth of huge multinational corporations that have replaced the hundreds of thousands of small businesses, shopkeepers and farmers that traditionally generated most economic activity and employment. And since big firms, unlike small ones, can threaten to move their operations to countries where the fiscal environment is easier, almost every government's ability to raise an adequate amount in tax has been reduced. Consequently, by blindly subsidizing the process of globalization, the nation-state has promoted its own demise.
Moreover, by inducing people everywhere to rely on the same narrow range of industrial resources, the global economic system has greatly increased competition at every level. As a result, unemployment in the industrialized world has soared while, in the cities of the South, populations are exploding because millions of rural families are being drawn away from local self-reliance by the promises of the consumer society - only to be plunged into urban squalor and hunger. Meanwhile, wilderness areas and biodiversity are under increasing pressure as the demand for industrial resources grows.
The system that has emerged suits nobody: in the long run, there are no winners. Even at the highest levels of society, the quality of life is declining. The threat of mergers leaves even senior managers in permanent fear of losing their jobs. As for the burgeoning list of billionaires, try though they might to fence themselves off from the collapsing social order, they cannot hide from the collapsing biosphere.
It is therefore in everyone's interest that the process of globalization be reversed. The most effective way of doing this would be for governments to get together to curb the powers of the multinationals by negotiating new trade and investment treaties that would remove the subsidies powering globalization and give local production a chance. For example, if the hidden subsidies for fossil fuel use were removed, local and national economies would become much stronger. But such international measures would not in themselves restore health to economics and communities: long-term solutions require a range of small local initiatives that are as diverse as the cultures and the environments in which they take place.
Unfortunately, many people are opposed to the creation of stronger local economics for all manner of reasons. Some, for example, imagine that the aim of economic localization is complete self-sufficiency at the village level. In fact, localization does not mean everything being produced locally, nor does it mean an end to trade. It simply means creating a better balance between local, regional, national and international markets. It also means that large corporations should have less control, and communities more, over what is produced, where, when and how, and that trading should be fair and to the benefit of both partie.
It is also sometimes feared that localization will lead to repression and intolerance. On closer examination, however, it is clear that the opposite is true: the global economy is itself nothing less than a system of structural exploitation that creates hidden slaves on the other side of the world and forces people to give up their rights to their own resources. Localization is not about isolating communities from other cultures, but about creating a new, sustainable and equitable basis on which they can interact. In the North, being responsible for our own needs means allowing the South to produce for itself, rather than for us.
All over the world, campaigns against globalization are growing in strength as people see how it affects their lives, their high streets, and their neighbourhoods - and as they become more aware that there are alternatives. The significance of Richard Douthwaite's book is that he shows that globalization can be contained by using these alternatives in a coherent way. He also shows we can start to build alternative systems today without waiting for politicians to give us their blessing or for the world to burn.
When community initiatives work (and Short Circuit describes both successes and failures) they release the imagination of those involved and enable them to take further steps towards economic revitalization, stronger communities, and a healthier environment. But so far, as Richard Douthwaite points out, no community anywhere has implemented more than a few of the many techniques described in this book, so the potential for revitalization is dramatic.
This book, then, is an indispensable tool-kit for communities seeking to initiate their own renewal from within. Those that take any of the steps outlined here will find themselves at the cutting edge of the most powerful movement of the new millennium.
|HELENA NORBERG-HODGE||ED MAYO|
|International Society for Ecology and Culture||New Economics Foundation|
Preface of "Short Circuit"
|Chapter 1||Chapter 2||Chapter 3||Chapter 4||Chapter 5||Chapter 6||Chapter 7|
|Epilogue||2002/3 Updates||Links||Site Map|