Frank Taylor

Proponents of globalisation sneer at localisation as some impossible Luddite philosophy which aims at enclosed local autarky. What happens, we hear them say, when a particular locality runs out of wheat or bricks, potatoes or wristwatches, or is not geared up to produce apples or computers?

This, of course, is a preposterous caricature. Complete local autarky is not on any agenda. Even before Romans times such commodities as tin, salt, iron and wool were traded across Europe.

That localisation presents such an easy target is often as much the fault of advocates who tend to talk of it were some simple and homogenous concept which can be purchased in bottles off a supermarket shelf What is needed is a more detailed overview of the sort of institutional and economic processes required to achieve a greater degree of localisation.

Any detailed consideration as to why localisation is necessary is too much to contain within such a paper as this. Suffice, for now, to say that as societies have industrialised so they have become afflicted by excessive mobility. In the pursuit of this much vaunted ideal of labour mobility we all pay colossal yet well hidden externalised costs. The fabric of family, clan, locale, and the fundamental social adhesive of mutual knowledge and trust that goes with all that have been eroded to the point of complete social disintegration. Whereas mutual support, care for the elderly, the social familiarity and discipline systems which might prevent much crime, and many functions now subsumed under 'education' and 'health' would once have been carried out by the extended family and the community, we now pay vast bureaucracies to carry out such roles.

As the world becomes more mobile it becomes more frenetic. As it becomes more frenetic it becomes more stressful. Much stress is ultimately about loss of control. Turn the world into a frenetic bedlam, fill it with highly mobile strangers and in turn fill their heads with all manner of greedy, materialistic and psychopathic garbage and you will get social breakdown and get it in spades. And you will get it as assuredly as you will get plague if you pour cholera into the water system.

Most of our social, economic and environmental problems are thus profoundly iatrogenic. When faced with any problem the corporatist mindset is always to apply ever thicker layers of the very processes that led to the initial problem. If one dose of regulation, vertical institution building, surveillance, supervision, and advanced technology doesn't work then a stiffer does of regulation, vertical institution building, surveillance, supervision and advanced technology must be applied. Inevitably the iatrogenic hydra's head multiplies and the cost and complexity of running our society multiplies with it. Now we are drowning in programmes, plans, initiatives, laws, regulations, bureaucracies and surveillance systems both human and electronic. In an effort to understand and control this societal cauldron whole new reaches of academia and management have been conjured from thin air.

The alternative is to deconstruct. A programme of deconstruction starts from admitting mistakes rather than compounding them. Thus we need to simplify the institutional framework, move from vertical to horizontal structures, slow the pace of life, reduce excessive mobility, move from the high pressure stressed out world to a slower and more convivial existence, progressively reduce debt and debt dependency, move from quantity to quality in our demand patterns, respect the planet, and allow the fabric of mutual trust and civil society to regrow and rebond.

Relocalisation is central to such a process. Axiomatic to relocalisation is a major devolution of political and economic power. There are many ersatz schemes for political devolution. Almost entirely they retain the real institutional power for the corporate centre whilst throwing a few nuts to the hoi poloi.

Typical amongst these was the scheme for regional assemblies where hardly any power was to be transferred from Whitehall. The Prescott scheme was not new. Similar plans to resurrect entities approximating to the Saxon fiefdoms of a thousand years ago have been around a long time. Now that this scheme lies in ruins it is time to look anew at the question. One of the most highly devolved political cultures is to be found in Switzerland where cantons and demi-cantons are both small, strong, and well seasoned with a good sprinkling of direct democracy. As long as thirty years ago the magazine Resurgence produced a scheme of canton-like 'city-regions' approximating to the existing county council and large borough structure. It is time to blow the dust off such ideas.

Economic devolution in a world of multi- national corporations and agencies such as the WTO and EU is neither more nor less difficult. It depends on the ability and willingness to come into direct conflict with such entities. To such agencies the holy trinity of 'free markets', 'competition' and 'efficiency' (although whether it is the production or consumption of merchandise which has to be 'efficient' is never specified) has become the lodestar that rules all others.

A distinction needs to be drawn between rivalry and competition. Rivalry may often be a creative stimulus but only if it is based in the sort of human conviviality which might (or ought to) be witnessed on the sportsfield. Shorn of that necessary conviviality, it will become the destruction maelstrom of unbridled competition; of dog eat dog. Once one dog starts barking the others will join in. Those who advocate baring the fangs of competition, who gladly promote a world where everyone is scratching each other's eyes out over whether an electric toaster has three bells and whistles on it or four, are so often the first to start whining when the dragons' teeth of crime and social dysfunction spring forth.

Yet there are some fairly simple measures which could begin the process of calming the bedlam and turning trends around. It involves the abandonment of the neoliberal holy trinity. Free markets, competition and efficiency must not be the prime considerations which override all others. The dogs must be muzzled.

Then we can, for a start, turn monopolies policy on its head, reversing the assumption in favour of mergers. The next step along that road would be the disaggregation of many big corporations and oligopolies. This could most easily be accomplished in the retail sector where strict limits on market share could be quickly set. The beer orders of the 1980's serve as a precedent. That these were not followed up by limits of the size of any resultant pub owning chain is a fault of application not of principle.

Competition would no longer be the lodestar of all policy. For example planning permission cannot be refused on grounds of competition alone. Supermarkets, shopping malls and out-of-town development have devastated many local business communities. The removal of competition caveats from both law and Planning Policy Guidance would at least draw a line under many further developments and create the climate in which small local enterprise could once again start to sprout and grow.

Of course there is always the frequently wielded threat by many multinationals, that unless this or that national government does their bidding, they will take their production elsewhere. Yet if we have a tenants' right to buy then why not a workers' right to buy? It should be illegal to preemptively close down any plant. Instead, any company wishing to move production elsewhere should be compelled to offer the plant, together ... importantly ... with the patents and copyrights it uses for sale. In many cases this would raise the possibility of buyouts by workers, managers, local venture capital or any combination thereof. Importantly such a measure would reduce corporate leverage on policy.

And why not, whilst we are at it, create an offence of corporate blackmail? After all if one person threatened another with their economic destruction unless they did their bidding, such conduct might be considered criminal. Corporations tend to both regard themselves and be regarded in law of as having a personality. If that is the case what is grease for the goose might be grease for the gander.

Not least there is site-here-to-sell-here. A policy preventing the summary closure and transfer of productive capacity would become a component of and complementary to such a policy. Such a concept could be further extended by either a selected re-imposition of tariffs and/or the imposition of minimum working standards and wage levels on imports.

Finally there must arise the question of the reimposition of Resale Price Maintenance. Forty years ago this measure was almost universally applauded. With hindsight we see how it accelerated the growth of retail oligopolies and the holocaust of small local businesses it has wrought. We should be seriously debating this matter.

Of course all this is anathema to the canon law of the WTO and the EU. The relationship of Greens to the EU is one of outright heresy. Only time will tell whether the heretic will recant and repent or gladly suffer excommunication!

Frank Taylor