MSC: ‘Trade Subsidiarity: Reducing the Movement of Goods for the Benefit of People and Planet’ Trade Subsidiarity: Reducing the Movement of Goods for the Benefit of People and Planet
‘Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.’ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Molly Scott Cato writes:
Political subsidiarity is defined as exercising power at the lowest feasible level. It resonates with green politicians whose inclination is to always work from the bottom up. The localisation agenda being developed by green economists begins at the locality for sound environmental rather than political reasons. This paper suggests the extension of the concept of ‘subsidiarity’ into the realm of production and consumption, so that we naturally tend to look to purchase goods produced as close to where we live as possible.
This proposal has a clear ecological rationale. Reports such as Collision Course by Andrew Simms (2000) have painted a disturbing picture of the environmental cost of the expansion in global trade. Perhaps the most disturbing fact is that the corporate lobbyists managed to have trade-related CO2 emissions excluded from the Kyoto limits, thus driving a coach and horses through the whole agreement and explaining why this is the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions, particularly air freight. However, it should not be thought that Greens are proposing a world without coffee and living in straw-bale homes: this is merely the latest example of the ‘back to the horse and cart’ attack that seasoned greenies have countered ad nauseam.
We must be clear about what we are proposing and what this will entail in terms of the different items which enable the everyday lives we lead in a sophisticated 21st-century world. As well as clarifying our ideological position I hope this paper will assist us all as individuals to make better, more informed and less guilt-ridden purchasing decisions. Once we know where we are going the market will begin to follow and, as the decision to buy organic has shown, the difficult shopping decisions we make today will soon become commonplace.
Raw Material Input and Labour Value Added
In determining where goods should be produced there are two important variables to consider: the physical inputs that are required to make the goods; and the amount and type of work required . . .
We have generated four different types of good:
- Local, non-intensive goods such as seasonal fruit and vegetables and other raw materials which can be grown without much complex labour input.
- Global, non-intensive goods, which are not labour-intensive but require a different climate from our own.
- Local, complex goods that require skill and time to produce but not the import of raw materials.
- Global, complex goods that need technical expertise and considerable time to produce and for which raw materials or the size of market suggests a problem with local production.
As we move up this hierarchy the environmental problems generated by the consumption of the goods increases. The hierarchy also represents a movement away from control over the goods by local people, so that those in category 4 are completely dominated by corporate, globalised trade.
On the one hand, some commentators are concerned about the climate-change impact of the unnecessary transport of goods. Their particular concern would be the horizontal axis. For those whose concern is the migration of most productive jobs in the UK to markets in low-wage economies, which will be greatly exacerbated following Enlargement, the vertical axis is of more interest.
From the trade subsidiarity perspective, before we buy goods in any of the categories 2-4 we need to ask: could I buy the product itself or a reasonable substitute from a local source? For example, in the case of coffee, you could decide to buy Barley Cup produced in Poland and drink that; or perhaps just drink it half the time. Or you could decide to go the whole ecofeminist route and grow lemon verbena in your kitchen garden to make your tea. Similarly with category 4, you could decide to buy a reconditioned computer rather than engage in the global trade system even in these high-tech products.
The remaining sections of the paper consider each of these four categories of goods in turn.
- Local, non-intensive
In this category what we are mainly concerned with is seasonal food. Because food travels badly and has a strong cultural resonance this is the area where arguments for relocalising supply have been the most developed. Evidence that this bandwaggon is rolling is provided by the huge success of the farmers’ markets, whose numbers have grown from the first in Bath in 1997 to more than 270 by the turn of the century (Norberg-Hodge et al., 2002: 21). (see www.farmersmarkets.net). A more structured way to source your vegetables is via a box scheme organised by a local supplier. In the UK there are now nearly 200 produce box schemes providing to more than 45,000 households with sales to the value of £22 million. An even closer relationship is offered by a system of community-supported agriculture (CSA), which is ‘the next best thing to growing your own food’. As Norberg-Hodge et al. put it:
Farmers benefit from CSAs by having an assured and stable market for their produce and by receiving payment in advance rather than when the harvest is in. Benefits to CSA members include a lower overall price for a season’s worth of food and the important knowledge of where and how their food was grown. CSAs not only enable consumers to establish a personal relationship with the farmer who grows their food, they often provide an opportunity for urban consumers to reconnect with the land. (p. 24).
The dominance of supermarkets in the food sector has been linked to the collapse of local rural economies and the erosion of rural communities. The ever longer food chains also create food insecurity, as the rapid emptying of supermarket shelves during the fuel protests demonstrated. An additional concern is the loss of our innate knowledge of the culture of food production in a world where most people think that food comes from Tesco. Jules Pretty discusses these deeper, more spiritual issues surrounding food in his book Agri-Culture (2002). He argues that, in resolving the problems facing agriculture in the era of globalisation it is not enough to understand economics concepts; we also need to learn what Pretty refers to as ‘ecological literacy’.
This is a way of learning about the land to which he gives the word metis, meaning ‘forms of knowledge embedded in local experience’. The loss of this ‘traditional’ knowledge¾whether it be native Americans losing their ability to name their indigenous plants and animals, or Indian healers their knowledge of traditional plants¾is, for Pretty, as serious as the loss of species or languages. Pretty identifies the importance of preserving such metis as survives and developing more such practical knowledge about the land if we are to build a sustainable future.
As noted at the outset, the high-intensity vs. low-intensity distinction is really a blurred one and it is at this margin where the local food campaigners should now be putting their energy. The types of products I am thinking about here are things like building materials and textiles. To imagine the trade subsidiarity world requires you to see the economy as one of your ancestors might have done, or how somebody in a poor village in the Third World might, or how you might if the transportation of goods carried its true environmental price. In other words, things that come from far away are either unknown, or unattainable, or impossibly expensive. When writing about regeneration of the Welsh economy I have called this kind of mind-shift ‘Robinson Crusoe economics’. Instead of your consumption being determined by a desire created by the advertising industry, to which you respond by finding a means to acquire the desired item, generally through working enough hours to ensure a monetary exchange, you have to imagine yourself on a desert island. In such a situation, just like Crusoe you would begin by assessing which resources were to hand, and if you were smart you would begin with the closest resources. Following on from food we can begin to take this approach to our other basic needs: for shelter and clothing.
The Robinson Crusoe approach to housing is demonstrated by Skara Brae, the neolithic village on Orkney dating from around 5,000 years ago. The priority was protection from the Arctic winds, hence the homes were built partly below ground level. The materials were the readily available local stones. The design included covered walkways between the different houses to encourage community-building in the long winter nights, and a central fireplace in each family home, a design feature which lasted until the 1960s in Orkneys houses. The houses also had in-built convenience, such as shelves above the beds for storing personal possessions. In other parts of the country the local building materials were biodegradable, which is why little trace remains today. It was only when the Romans arrived on these shores that wealthier citizens began building to show off, aspiring after imported marble to ape the colonisers, and creating palaces as status symbols.
The appropriate building materials for homes depend on the conditions and local availability. In Wales, Ty-Mawr Farm near Llangorse Lake in the Brecon Beacons National Park run courses in using a range of natural building materials such as earth, timber and lime (email@example.com). They also offer information on natural insulation using sheep wool. The Centre for Alternative Technology has been developing sustainable building ideas for 30 years (www.cat.org.uk) assessing the total impact of building on the environment and encouraging self-build. Empowering local communities to build their own houses in this way will enable the creation of local building cultures to replace the one-size-fits-all model of the global economy.
A Robinson Crusoe approach to clothing would suggest identifying and developing our domestic textiles: linen and hemp. Hemp has suffered from its association with marijuana, although the textile crop Cannabis sativa does not contain enough of the active ingredient TLC to threaten anybody’s mental state. Its proponents argue that hemp has played an important role in its UK history; the earliest trace is from Scotland in the Bronze Age (Ryder, 1999). It is also suggested that during the reign of George III the growing of hemp was compulsory and that the county of Hampshire is named after the crop. Hemp provided the sails for the naval and merchant ships that built the British Empire, and then ironically lost out as those sails powered the ships that brought cotton back to Lancashire to oust hemp as a textile crop.
Current concerns about the environmental impact of cotton (which needs heavy use of pesticides) has now brought the debate full circle. The Bioregional Group have been running a project called Hemp for Textiles since 1994. They claim that ‘Hemp merits consideration as a new linen-like, environmentally friendly, textile fabric. Hemp can be grown easily under organic cultivation as it grows so fast that it smothers weeds’. Hemp is now being seen as a solution to the reduction in rural incomes: a project to explore the feasibility of growing it on a commercial scale (called Flax and Hemp) is now being undertaken at Bangor University funded by the European Objective 1 scheme.
- Global, non-intensive
So far we have undertaken a desert-island-style assessment of what is available locally, but nobody is suggesting that in order to live in harmony with the planet you need to become a monk. The goods news is that life’s luxuries will still be available; the bad news is that once the producers have received a fair price and the environmental costs of moving them halfway across the planet have been reflected in a carbon tax they will be considerably more expensive than they are now. But in a sense this is also goods news, or at least mixed news, because there is little point in having a luxury you can have every day. Before long you will be joining Jamie Oliver fans in hunting the supermarket shelves for the last lime or the last telapia because you must have exactly that (pukka) recipe tonight. This is the insane fetishism of modern consumption and actually brings far less delight than the silver wrapped Christmas tangerines of the 1950s.
While the argument over local food has been won, the argument over low-intensity, global products is in full swing. The debate has traditionally been between proponents of so-called ‘free trade’ and those who support fair trade, now transmuted into trade justice. Free trade is the dominant mode of trade, allowing corporations to exploit their transnational position and their lobbying power to gain a pre-eminent position of power which they use to extract maximum profits at the expense of people and planet. Fair trade, by contrast, is a response by well-meaning, guilt-ridden liberals in the West, who offer to pay a larger share of their income which they can afford so that the producers of these goods can have a closer to decent standard of living. In this debate about how global trade should be managed there is now a new kid on the block: localisation. This is a series of policies to control production and trade to ensure that it is more locally based to guarantee social standards, employment and security of supply for local communities, as well as protecting the environment. Such policies include import and export tariffs, carbon taxation on trade-related transport, site-here-to-sell-here policies, and so on (see the works by Colin Hines in the references section for more details).
In this paper I will ignore ‘free trade’, since it is beyond the moral pale to indulge our lifestyles at the expense of creating misery in the countries we dominate politically, and focus on the debate between trade justice and localisation. Free trade has achieved considerable success, with 14 per cent of the coffee sold in the UK now being channelled through this system. Its proponents have now moved on, most notably Oxfam, to argue for trade justice, which moves beyond charitable exchanges to demand a reform of the WTO so that the rules of trade are fair for poorer countries. Such demands amount to a call to change the rules of the game. By analogy this is like a poker-player who is winning every round against an opponent suggesting they move on to pontoon instead, but without reallocating the number of chips each player has. Whatever trade game is invented, so long as the world trade system is dominated by the dollar (or the euro), the countries of the South will lose the game because they cannot control the money that it is based on.
Mike Rowbotham’s call for a neutral trading currency as proposed by Keynes at Bretton Woods would be a significant advance in terms of making trade fair; Richard Douthwaite’s proposal of a carbon-backed currency for this purpose goes further by building respect for planetary limits into the new trade game. But anybody who argues merely for a renegotiation of the rules of the WTO either grossly underestimates the power of the corporations and the governments they control, or else is deliberately deflecting our energy.
In arguing for the localisation position in opposition to Oxfam’s trade justice move, Colin Hines (2003) identifies that they ‘overlook the three Cs of competition, control and climate change’. However just an international trading regime it will always be based on a competition model, so that there will be losers as well as winners in the South. In terms of control, Hines makes the obvious point that relying on trade with the North to solve your poverty is just one more way of making yourself dependent on the North, rather than moving towards self-reliance. And the whole argument about whether trade represents a route out of poverty ignores the impact of that trade on the planet via increase CO2 emissions.
Localisation also entails the recreation of bio-regions within each country and the stimulation of their traditional domestic crops. Inspiring work in this direction has been carried out by the BioRegional Development Group (www.bioregional. com). In 1994 they began a project to recreate the lavender fields of south London, famous for the Yardley factory and the Lavender Hill Mob. They began planting local lavender on a disused allotment site with the help of inmates from Downview prison. The project generated many benefits in terms of reinforcing the local community:
We harvested our first crop of lavender in 1998. The event generated a lot of media coverage. Older residents sent us their reminiscences. The new Christmas lights in Wallington have been designed on a lavender theme. When a local pub was refurbished, it chose the lavender story, naming the pub ‘The John Jakson’ after a family of lavender growers. (Desai and Riddlestone, 2002: 80).
Trade subsidiarity is the next step along the localisation route, representing a way of choosing how each different type of good is produced and exchanged. For goods that cannot be produced in our cold climate, trade will persist, but it will be subject to the sorts of policies Hines outlines, increasing the cost, and with a fair price guaranteed to growers in the South . . .
- Local, complex
Next we come to the category of goods that requires large inputs of work but for which we can find the raw materials locally. An example would be the furniture we have in our homes, all of which could have been made with locally available timber. In Ceredigion, Mid Wales the timber sector is being encouraged by the organisation Coedbren Ceredigion, which produces a directory of Ceredigion’s manufacturers, craftworkers and timber suppliers using timber produced from Welsh woods and forests. In one of the highest unemployment areas of Europe it is clearly absurd for us to be importing furniture made in the Philippines and bought on an industrial estate, and yet within a globalised trade system this is what we do. In a system of trade subsidiarity we should begin by asking whether furniture produced locally from local raw materials is available.
I want to take this discussion further again by considering the impact on our personal identities and human communities of a local system of production of these products rather than one based on manufacturing them in the cheapest sweat-shop in an special enterprise zone halfway across the world. The first and most obvious point is that buying local would create productive and useful jobs in this country. The cliché that we live in a ‘post-industrial age’ is an untruth: there is still industrial work done it is just that it has been imported to other countries where people can be paid less and treated in ways so inhumane we not longer accept them for ourselves. I am not a supporter of work for its own sake, but it is important to remember the role it plays in building our lives, our family relationships and our communities.
What is the impact of the work of creating our furniture on those who carry it out? Let us think about the contrast between the work of a local craftsman in pre-industrial revolution Britain and the work of somebody in the MFI factory in Runcorn. My prototype for the idyllic local craftsman is Adam Bede, the eponymous hero of a George Eliot novel. The book conveys how his skilled work producing beautiful objects becomes an essential part of his personality and also relates him to the other people in his community whether Mrs Poyser, the employer of the woman he loves, or his father, whose coffin he makes by hand on the night the father drowns. We need to use the principle of trade subsidiarity to reclaim our right to work on our own terms, developing our skills, valuing our products, producing things of beauty as well as financial worth. Through such a system we will be recreating the meaningful human connections that have been destroyed by the global trade system.
The life of the craftsman should not be an isolated one. Before production became atomised in the industrial revolution, trades were organised into guilds which provided a whole range of social and economic services to their members and the community. Their central role was to guarantee the quality of the product; craftsmen and women who failed to keep that standard were expelled from the guild and could not sell their output. They also fixed the price of goods, making competition between producers on price impossible. In the modern global marketplace the ideology suggests that we the consumers should concern ourselves exclusively with price. This ignores quality, which declines as lower and lower wages are paid. The balance between price and quality in production needs to be reasserted, as does the relationship between price and the wider quality of life.
- Global, complex
This is the most problematic category because the goods it includes require a large market in order to justify the expense of transporting the raw materials and training the workforce. This makes a strong planetary impact inevitable and so the first step should be to minimise demand for goods in this category. According to the progress view of economic history, items which we once managed perfectly happily without first enter our consciousness as exotic goods for the wealthy, but before long we all feel that it is our human right to own one. Perhaps mobile phones are the most recent example of this transition from bizarre invention to everyday necessity. Over the last 100 years by far the most damaging example has been the car. Now we have reached a stage where, as Greens, we are pilloried for refusing each of the 1 billion Chinese citizens their human right to a car. This is a moral standard developed by General Motors and for their benefit but we must find a way to challenge it.
This is simple once we have accepted the Contraction and Convergence framework (see Meyer, 2000), a system for sharing the planet’s carrying capacity of carbon dioxide between its 6 billion citizens. In fact the sums work out quite handily at around 1 tonne of carbon dioxide per person per year. Were this system agreed on an international basis we would effectively move into a world where, for the purpose of production and trade, the economy would be energy-limited. Decisions to produce one good would automatically remove the energy from another good. As a nation we would be sharing our energy between productive sectors and imports, which would be costed in terms of both the energy used in production and that used in transport. It is a natural next step to move towards a global energy-backed currency, known as the EBCU (environment-based currency unit: for a brief sketch of how the system would work see Douthwaite, 1999). Such a system would resolve the issues of global poverty and climate change by limiting the amount of energy available to the global economy and sharing it fairly. It would cause a huge increase in the cost of energy-intensive goods and a parallel pressure to produce more goods as close to markets as possible, and using energy derived from renewable sources.
The table shows how the share of the world’s energy a country is using directly relates to the wealth of that country, and makes clear the sorts of exchanges that need to take place. The best example is the exchange of the USA’s 5 per cent of population for 25 per cent of carbon dioxide with India’s 17 per cent of the world’s people for 5 per cent of carbon dioxide. It is also worth noting that the UK has 1 per cent of the world’s population but 2.5 per cent of the world’ CO2, making 80 per cent cuts necessary. The figure for Malawi’s output of CO2 also puts that country’s poverty into clearer perspective.
Once we live in such an energy-limited world we will begin to face choices about which goods are really necessary to us. Critics of the localisation agenda would suggest that we are depriving those in poor countries of the goods we take for granted. The C&C policy undermines the accusation of special pleading, but we should explore the concept of what we take for granted in more detail. Certain human needs may be universal, but our means for meeting them are diverse and derived from our cultures. For example, most human societies have communicated in written form, but this does not need to be using a pencil, or a biro, or a computer if the means for producing those are not readily available. We all need to share love with members of our families, but it is only necessary to have a car to ensure this in an atomised society where individual live far away from other family members. Imposing our concepts of what is necessary for a decent human life is part of the colonisation of the mind that those in the South are doing their best to escape from.
So we have addressed the problems of cultural relativity and a fair sharing of global energy supplies. The next problem with highly technical goods is the size of the market necessary to make their production efficient. We should beware here of conventional economics definitions such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘economies of scale’. While Iraq was subject to sanctions Iraqi people did what humans always do when resources are scarce: they improvised and engaged in make-do-and-mend strategies. When we see their cannibalised, horse-drawn carts we are invited to conclude ‘desperate poverty: evil Saddam’, but in fact a sustainable economy would cause such low-impact strategies to flourish. Mending broken goods and recycling reusable components would become economically viable, as would building goods and components for maximum life, in contrast to the built-in obsolescence of the globalised economy. We need to question the provenance of our judgement that the ersatz cart is a tragedy to be replaced by the US-manufactured SUV.
Let us take as an example of a globally produced complex product the computer. Is either its method of production or its global distribution efficient? There are probably more computers thrown away as obsolete every week in the UK than could be found in the whole public administration system of a country like Ethiopia. So much for efficient distribution. Economies of scale in the production of micro-chips have led to concentration in a small number of global sites under the control of a small range of international corporations. This represents control but not efficiency. It is the result of a process of desperate global competition to gain supremacy in this dominant sector in the Information Age. My own local economy of Wales was a major loser in that competition. The people of Wales contributed £248 million to build a state-of-the-art microchip factory for LG on a greenfield site in Newport. While it was being built the microchip market hit the inevitable global glut and LG merged with Samsung. The factory was never opened: the money had been wasted and the land destroyed for nothing. So much for efficiency of markets.
A final change to reorient this sector of production would be the abolition of the concept of intellectual property. What is the real reason why Ethiopia is forced to import its computers and pay world-market prices? Is it because the resources are not available or Ethiopians too benighted to make their own computers? In reality the reason production is controlled by a small number of companies and shared between low-skill, low-pay production sites from Treforest to Indonesia is that the knowledge needed to produce the product is controlled by international law. The most glaring moral obscenity caused by control of this life-saving knowledge (the phrase ‘intellectual property’ should be expunged from dictionaries as logically impossible) is the deaths of innocents in poor countries because rich corporations deprive them of the right to produce medicines that could cure them. This is so strikingly immoral and the need so great that the Brazilian, South African and Indian governments have decided to flout it. We should treat all knowledge control in the same way.
Out of the Global Supermarket and into the 21st-century Fair
So far I have discussed how a system of global exchange based on trade subsidiarity might deal with four different types of goods. In conclusion I would like to explore a vision of how we might create a system of buying and selling that would meet all our human needs better than the one we have today. Let’s face it: shopping is not fun. Call me a fogey if you must, but the combination of over-heating, over-hyped brands and head-splitting music make the trip to the local high-street an experience akin to an up-market Guatanamo Bay torture chamber. But there is no escape from your role as consumer. With high levels of unemployment, increasing numbers of people being outside the workforce due to other factors (long-term sickness or retirement), and the homogenisation of work (revolving around the computer and the telephone), identity must now be sought outside the work environment, in the shopping arcade. This appears to be the response to the removal of identity from work-roles which has accompanied the globalisation of the economy. Our role now is as consumers; our national duty is to spend enough to keep the debt-ridden economy afloat. Like hamsters on the treadmill we must keep up the effort or the whole system will come crashing down . . .
Baudrillard sees the obligation to obtain identity through consumption in modern society as oppressive. It offers us no opportunity to express our individuality, and still less to band together to oppose those aspects of the culture or society which we dislike. ‘Can we imagine a coalition of car drivers against car registration? Or a collective opposition to television?’ (1988: 54) While the workers of capitalism as theorised by Marx had the option of collective action through the strike, the consumers of postmodern society are trapped in their individual or family-based private spheres, deprived of communal identity and politically neutered:
Just as The People is glorified by democracy provided they remain as such (that is provided they do not interfere on the political or social scene), the sovereignty of consumers is also recognized . . . provided they do not try to act in this way on the social scene. The People¾these are the laborers, provided they are unorganized; the Public, or public opinion¾these are the consumers, provided they are content to consume.
This is the essence of the postmodernist critique: that the organisation of society and economy deprives us of the power to find our own identities. But the most significant threat to our future survival is the growth generated by this system of excessive production and consumption create by the profit-drive. It is time to step outside the supermarket not only because of this planetary imperative but because we deserve better. Often as Greens we have little to offer except blood, sweat, toil and tears (I am thinking particularly of our allotments policy), but in the case of the future of consumption we can offer a life-enhancing vision. The end of history only represents a threat if you are a believer in Progress. Since I am not I have found much to value in the way our ancestors, and those in non-capitalist societies, have organised the production and distribution of goods.
I find hope in the development of New Age fairs. An example was an event that took place in Milton Keynes in autumn 2002 under the name ‘The Global Fair: Trading with a Conscience’. It was typical of the green fairs that are now a regular feature around the country. Items for sale include clothing, jewellery, furnishings, and ideas. These events are always a bizarre mix of local crafts and ethnic items from Nepal or Guatemala and so the fair’s claim that you can ‘Get it Sust!’ by buying ‘Ethically traded and sustainable goods from around the world’ may be rather dubious. It is more the energy of these events which is appealing. This is the human desire to exchange that has refused to be crushed by European directives and an unhelpful monetary regime. It is the sort of real free market which our ancestors enjoyed but which, in spite of the ideology, we have been deprived of.
Until the Industrial Revolution Europe also benefited from specialist fairs, for traders in particular commodities, organised by guilds and arranged for appropriate saints’ days. A green trading system would see the revival of these anorak-fests but with more sophisticated products. We already have a hint of this in some of the events you find at the NEC in Birmingham or at Olympia, where handy grandmothers meet together to compare doll’s house designs or traction-engine aficionados exchange tips. In our controlled economy these expressions of identity are only found in the marginal, geekish goods, but we can imagine a system where these were the sorts of places you went to buy a computer or a hand-blender. The distance you would have to travel would depend on the size of the market. Such situations of exchange have tremendous side-benefits in terms of the exchange of information and networking between producers, as well as offering a genuine choice between goods that can actually be compared that we lack in the global economy.
For fear of being accused of Luddism I would also like to describe the role for the internet in my new green exchange system. The prototype for my online trading system already exists in The Ethical Junction (www.ethical-junction.org). This provides a portal for finding suppliers of ethically produced and fairly traded goods. To fulfil the needs of a green shopper it would have to add a localised dimension. On accessing the site you would need to enter your postcode so that later searches could be sorted by proximity.
For a trading system to be successful it will have to appeal to what Janet Alty called our ‘flocking and foraging’ instincts. The advertising industry has exploited these for the benefit of the globalised economy. Flocking is encouraged by vast shopping malls where we mill around like disorientated sheep, and by our mutual identification of group loyalties embodied in the brand. Foraging is achieved by the dump-bin of special offers, and perhaps by the constant reorganisation of goods within the supermarket. These are two reasons why we enjoy shopping which we can find more creative and enjoyable responses to. The third is the human contact which is removed by the alienating exchange of product for cash. No wonder people flock to Sunday morning car-boot sales to forage through the crap on display, which they can chat over with its former owners. The satisfaction of a car-boot sale simply cannot be explained by the money earned or the items taken home.
We can support that aspects of our local economies that continue to work, and make an effort to use and revitalise the remnants of an earlier era. Most towns still have bakeries, and often butchers and greengrocers too. You can also find a lot of information about the extent of your local economy from local directories and free newspapers. Since these are based on advertising revenue they necessarily define an area within which people are happy to travel to buy goods, thus providing a natural definition of the local economy. Lastly, we can take hope from the various local brands and symbols that are used to define businesses and which indicate that locality has always been important in trade. In my area of Mid Wales the sorts of locally based brands are things like Cambrian, Dragon and Ceredig, which define everything from building contractors and printers to patés and beers.
As a final note I would like to mention a few more capitalist cultural mind-sets we should think our way out of. The first is the need to achieve value for money without questioning whether that money itself offers us value. If our exchange is based on money we should question the money’s provenance and if we don’t like it replace it with one of our own, whether this is a complementary currency or a LETS scheme. The second is to challenge the ethic of scarcity. Believing that there is not enough is a useful strategy used by those who are powerful in the globalised economy for disempowering us and engendering fear. Supplanting this with an ethic of plenty challenges the meanness of our modern economy. This brings me to the third and final point about exchange: it does not have to involve money. You can swap things, but you can also give them away. If we believe in the benefits of the ethic of plenty we should show it by building the gift economy in our own lives.