Localize it - Page 2

Local action: a new initiative aims to deglobalize the Bay Area's economy
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It hopes to do so, in part, by achieving the cooperation and coordination of businesses, government officials, and community leaders at the federal, state, and local levels.

The report defines economic localization as "the process by which a region ... frees itself from an overdependence on the global economy and invests in its own resources to produce a significant portion of the goods, services, food, and energy it consumes."

In an interview with the Guardian, John Talberth, one of the report's primary authors and a PhD economist at Redefining Progress, stressed that economic "isolationism is not the goal of the campaign."

Instead, he said the goal is "reestablishing an efficient balance between imports and products made locally for local consumption." In other words, even if the Bay Area localizes its economy according to the strategy proposed by the coalition, many products would still be imported. The economy would, therefore, remain dependent on global markets — but much less so than it is now.

And that could have significant ramifications for the region, humans, and the planet.

THE PRICE OF PROGRESS

The report acknowledges the benefits of globalization, which has kept consumer prices low and forced corporations to become more efficient. But, the authors note, "it has come at a steep price."

That price includes "a loss of economic diversity, declining real wages and working conditions, increasing inequality, offshoring of environmental degradation, and a concentration of financial capital and economic decision-making in global corporations." The changes have left people "vulnerable to inevitable supply and price shocks in the post peak oil era."

In other words, perhaps global capitalism is reaching the point of diminishing returns. The coalition posits that the antidote is localization, which has great potential "for creating a wider range of local jobs and institutions, shielding our economy from global shifts, increasing the diversity and quality of goods and services we consume, distributing economic benefits in a more equitable manner, and protecting our environment."

The Bay Area is the focus of the coalition's campaign because its member organizations are located here and because those members believe there is already a great deal of public support in the region for such a project.

Kirsten Schwind, programs coordinator at Bay Localize, told the Guardian there was an "overwhelmingly positive response" to a recent project targeted at supporting local food producers. Both Schwind and Don Shaffer, executive director of BALLE, cited Oakland's Kaiser Permanente as an example of the increasing number of businesses that are altering their buying habits to favor local sellers. Shaffer also said the Oakland and San Francisco school boards are buying locally produced food and the Oakland City Council is setting targets for local energy production.

But even if much of the Bay Area is receptive to the idea of economic localization, other groups are not. There remains a powerful current of support in government, business, and academia for a predominantly global economy.

Traditional economists, for instance, are reflexively hostile to localization initiatives because such projects do not conform to the concepts embodied in so-called free-trade and free-market theories.

NAYSAYERS

The Guardian interviewed three UC Berkeley professors who do not agree with the report's view of globalism. None of the professors had read the report — despite the fact that the Guardian forwarded it to them before the interviews — but all said they were familiar with the basic ideas behind localization.

Each expressed a knee-jerk hostility to the concept, but once they began discussing the details of localization, they agreed with the coalition on many points.

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