The 100% local economy
The global economy is built on the principle that one place can be
exploited, even destroyed, for the sake of another place.
— Wendell Berry
This 100% local economy is a model where the entirety of our needs are met using local materials, produced within walking distance of where we live (or on a horse and cart, for instance, if the cart was made using local materials). This includes everything from the soles of our shoes to the cutting implements we may use to make the bow drill that starts our fire.
Even the most ardent supporters of moneyless living, such as those who call for a resource-based economy, view this perspective as being at the more extreme end of the moneyless spectrum, despite it being the way we lived for the majority of our history, and the fact that some people still live this way. This wariness is understandable – we’re currently thousands of miles away, quite literally, from this level of localisation, and living in such a manner en masse would require an entire redesign of society and wholesale land reform; both of these, some would say, would require a revolution, or an almost complete collapse of the model of economy we currently participate in (which, given its dependency on infinite growth on a finite planet, is hardly out of the question). If the public and political will was there, such social redesign would still be a big task for a population the size of the UK, though by no means impossible. Without the public and political will it would take Nature and the systems’ inherent flaws to conspire to create the new conditions from which a localised model could flourish. Whichever way things unfold, it is the way of living that I personally aspire to. Later in this chapter I will set out the argument for why a globalised non-monetary economy could never work.
This fully localised model only appears extreme because we compare it relative to the extremely globalised economy we have today, and because we see it through the eyes of a people who are physically and emotionally addicted to types of gadgetry and gizmotry that can never be localised.
Through the eyes of a people intimately connected to each other and their land, such as the Awá tribe of the Brazilian Amazon, extreme is how we industrialised nations live today. Extreme is a worldview that sees the majesty of life on Earth as an ingredients list of resources that by mining, clear-cutting and bottom-trawling can be efficiently turned into cold, hard cash. Extreme is not knowing our neighbours, let alone feeling comfortable enough to ask them for help. Extreme is many members of a community having spare rooms in their houses while others sleep on the street. Extreme is spending our lives doing jobs we hate, just so that we can repay the bank money that it created out of thin air in the first instance. Extreme is taking what was freely given to us and then charging another part of Nature for it, only sharing that which was gifted to us if we receive something in return. Extreme is walking towards the precipice as we smugly recycle our tetrapaks. Extreme is letting it all unfold before our eyes, as if somehow we were not powerful enough to stop it.
Authors such as Michael Shuman(33) and Peter North(34) argue in favour of less ‘locally’ defined definitions of local than I do, with North remarking that “localisation means producing as much as you can as locally as you can … if you can’t produce things locally, produce them as close as you can to where they will be used”. Whilst I welcome such calls and would encourage people to localise as much as they can (in the next chapter I will be discussing the various degrees of localisation and moneylessness, and this is one option), I feel such a perspective is too loose and open to exactly the same globalised processes we already have. China is probably as local as I can have a pair of trainers produced for me (considering they require materials from every continent of the world). Does that still qualify as localisation? If not, where do you draw the line? Which products do we continue to manufacture and which do we stop? In a fossil-fuelled economy, where all previously natural limits have effectively been burnt into greenhouse gases, who decides what’s ‘appropriate’? The market? The State? Or do we resolve to take back the power to make these decisions ourselves, making conscious choices about what a truly sustainable radius to meet all our needs within is, voluntarily rejecting anything that can’t be provided there? Without such voluntary simplicity, we’ll have what we’ve already got, with just a touch more localisation that, in reality, is little more than a token gesture.
On this basis I would refine North’s quote and declare that if you can’t produce things locally, begin weaning yourself off them immediately and start purposefully constructing an economy where your needs are simplified and then met with materials you can produce locally.
Arguing for complete relocalisation may seem dismissive of well-intentioned partial localisation efforts. Of course there are degrees to localisation, and producing the things we can easily produce locally (whilst we continue to produce products such as wind turbines on a national scale, as part of a transition strategy) would undoubtedly improve our individual and collective health. Yet to argue for partial relocalisation long-term would be little more than inhabiting the fantasy realm within which the majority of us humans have conveniently placed ourselves, in blissful ignorance of the basics of economics and our globalised system’s fundamental need for the large economies of scale and highly specialised division of labour (with all the social and ecological consequences of both) that are required to produce just one laptop. To produce one laptop you need to sell millions of its model to justify the investment in R&D and initial infrastructure alone. You need the global infrastructure that we know is polluting and destroying the ecological systems that support life on Earth. What’s more, you need technical experts and factory line workers that only do that one task for a living, dangerously limiting, as we’ve seen in chapter one, their own connection with Nature, resulting in even more social and ecological consequences. These matters are complex – affecting, amongst others, an entire society’s sense of self – yet are often argued in terms as simplistic as like for like calculations of carbon emissions.
The conundrum, which I appreciate authors such as Shuman and North will have considered, is that we are too many to get even close to being fully localised in the short-term, even if we did all want to, yet if we don’t fully localise there are inevitable trains coming head-on to meet us as we stroll down the tracks of ecological meltdown. The good news is that it is possible for you as an individual to start preparing for a different future immediately, and through doing so inspire loved ones and friends around you to get prepared also, while more macro-scale factors ultimately force the hand of the rest of the population. My concern is that unless we choose to make a rapid transition towards fully sustainable lives soon, it may be too late to successfully adjust by the time the bubble of fantasy economics finally bursts. Start adjusting today, and use whatever parts of this book you find useful to help you on your own path.
If your main interest in moneyless living centres mainly on ecological, physical matters, and not so much on the gift economy, you could add another couple of surprise options onto the moneyless menu: local currencies and barter.
This is an interesting one. I am sure most of you are wondering what local currencies are doing in a book about reducing our dependency on money. A local currency is obviously just another form of money, after all. Whilst I argue that there are all sorts of unintended consequences from even using local money, I add it in here as an option for you for three reasons:
i. In the transitionary period between the globalised monetary economy and the localised gift economy of my wildest fantasies, local currencies could provide a very useful ecological function if used in combination with a local materials economy. (At the moment much of the materials and produce traded by participants in local currency schemes is imported to some extent, due to the fact that those who use it continue to also use their conventional national currency for the vast majority of their needs. The materials element of an economy will only be localised to (roughly) the inverse degree to which its members use a fluid national currency.)
ii. Local currencies undoubtedly help form relationships between local people in the short term that I believe could eventually transform into gift economy relationships in the medium term.
iii. It is a more realistic option for many people at the moment than a pure gift economy.
Thankfully, there are many local currency initiatives popping up all over the UK and the world, many as part of the Transition movement(35) – Totnes, Stroud, Brixton, Lewes and Bristol all have their own pound, amongst others. Other schemes, such as Timebanks(36) and Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS)(37) which I will look at in chapter five, have existed since the 1980s, and add to the menu of options available to those who want economic change. North’s book, Local Money, is a great source of information on all of these.
This is a similar point to the one above, but more debatable, as the vast majority of people would not consider bartering to be a form of money. And technically they are correct, as it is defined as ‘the trade in goods or services without the exchange of money’. Whilst bartering has even more social benefits than local currencies (though a lot less liquidity), it is in many ways little more than an awkward form of money, and is based on the same consciousness of debt and credit that we don’t see many other examples of in Nature.
I include it on the buffet table of moneyless living for many of the same reasons that I’ve included local currencies, in that it can be a transformative experience, potentially moving people from the mindset of exchange into the mindset of unconditional giving as relationships develop. Bartering, as a social tool, is most valuable when done informally and without exact accounting (money is the ultimate form of exact accounting), like you offering me some of your glut of courgettes in exchange for sex. That has unfortunately never happened to me, I must add.