04 October 2010


Seems we have a new period of global history rapidly approaching that will necessitate policies of sustainable de-growth. First, economic de-globalization will occur with the advent of peak oil. Some of it was foreshadowed a couple years ago when gasoline prices shot up to $4 and furniture plants moved back to North Carolina to take advantage of the "neighborhood effect" of locating production near markets so as to save on transportation costs that became too high. This should serve as harbinger of coming systemic changes.

Second, it seems to me, the comparative advantage of production that takes place within a global system of production and consumption is economically viable only in an era of cheap oil. Whether oil is cheap or not, a global system of comparative advantage depends on large multinational corporations that do not owe allegiance to any localized population. In terms of food production, this is the worse system possible, in that the supply chains are insecure economically, ecologically, and politically. Peak oil will force a re-localization of food production (an agricultural neighborhood effect). A world of spiraling risk and disruption will re-energize a von Thunen-like rationalization of the peri- and even intra-urban land-use system (a literal neighborhood effect) for food production. Consumption (in terms of food stuffs) would not necessarily decrease, but "consumption," especially in terms of energy costs, would. This is exactly what sustainable de-growth calls for.

It is less easy to see a de-globalization and re-localization of manufacturing because so many products are not truly necessary. Perhaps an array of 81 different lamps (or name any consumer item) to choose from will be something only to be remembered. However, for many decades it has been possible to de-centralize manufacturing (exactly what Kropotkin called for in the very early 20th century in his "Fields, Factories, and Workshops Tomorrow").

On both theoretical and practical grounds there is much good to say about de-centralization, but peak oil, I believe, will force the issue. When (and, of course, if) that happens, the bio-regionalists and "watershed economics" will be all the rage.

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