Feed on

Localism Paradox

Riddle me this. Why does it seem that folks who support living in small-scale, localized communities (such as those espoused by EF Schumacher or Bill McKibben) also idolize centralized, intrusive, massive federal government power? The virtues of local living, we are told, include knowing the people around you, adapting to the local environmental and growing conditions, understanding customs, cultures and appreciating and thriving off of the individual idiosyncrasies of your neighbors – in other words, living locally is espoused as a good thing for precisely the reasons Hayek tells us that central planners’ jobs are hopelessly difficult.

Hayek tells us that every single individual has knowledge of the “particular circumstances of time and place,” that they may not even be aware of until they are forced to act upon it. They probably cannot even articulate it even if they are acting on it. Yet, through market transactions via the price system they not only are incentivized to act on this information but they manage to convey it to others in an intricate web of communication and action. No central planner could ever collect this information, and if they were able to collect it, no central planner would be able to act on it or fully understand it. The localists seem to make these same arguments about our environment and living locally. So please remind me, how can it be that localists are both Hayekian and anti-Hayekian all at the same time?

9 Responses to “Localism Paradox”

  1. Harry says:

    I like buying local if the price and quality are right. I wish I could buy a bottle of milk where the distance between the cow to the dairy to my refrigerator was two miles. Even better is growing your own raspberries, quarts of them, which even now sell for three bucks a half pint.

    But even that requires money or time. The reason raspberries are so expensive is that it takes about a half hour to pick a quart.

    If that is idle time for me, it costs me nothing, and often I do not worry about it, especially since I have a kid I pay. That was Hayek’s point.

    This is not to yearn for simpler times, like milking the cows by hand, plowing with a horse (the Buy Local people would use a goat behind the plow, milk it to make chevre) or trudging through the wood to hew a dead tree for firewood. We are not even talking about what happened when you got an abscessed tooth.

    They want US to live more simply, and buying locally to save the Earth has nothing to do about it.

  2. I disagree. I understand and agree with the general point, that there are those in the progressive spectrum who do carry this compartmentalized view that we should “think local, act global” and at the same time look to the Federal (or state) government for services (if not largesse). However, that spectrum is highly textured. Many on the left share with those on the right a preference for individual-sized solutions to individual-sized problems.

    Again, I grant the premise with a case in point. Here at the Ann Arbor People’s Food Co-operative is posted a call to communicate with our Senators over some organic labeling law or other.

    It is better to think past the unnamed collective. After all, not all libertarians support the corporation as a form of firm organization, even though corporations are agents of capitalism and (many) libertarians do advocate for capitalism.

  3. Harry in 2 jumped in while I was writing. I did not mean that I disagree with Harry, but that I ask for an exception to the main point.

    Regarding 2, I would ask for a different view of “idle time.” Price averaging works for buy or sell. We too easily trace the flow of one form of money and speak of “buying raspberries,” rather than “selling dollars.” It goes back to pre-market thinking. Catholics justified working on the Sabbath if they did not take “menial wages.” It was a teaching point from Jesus on Jewish law that God wants you to take care of your animals, even on the Sabbath.

    A nutritionist pointed out that so much energy is consumed by the brain that you would soon starve to death if all you did was lay around and daydream. The body is not the burden. And we all know the fable of Newton under the apple tree. “Idle time” may be a floating abstraction.

    Earning $100 per hour polishing widgets, and saving $5 an hour picking your own raspberries are all in a day’s work. How we account for our time in practice is woefully inadequate and inept when contrasted with the powers of bookkeeping. The study of accounting is generally disvalued – certainly not higly honored – by our educational institutions.

    If mathematics is the language of science, then accounting is the language of business. We think that America will be better off if everyone can take a derivative and guess an integral. We do not ask that everyone be able to set up a pair of T-accounts.

  4. Harry says:

    I get your point, MM. What I attempted to illustrate was how complex the simple task of managing one’s own garden includes complicated decisions and transactions that even our local government could not comprehend, and therefore they and everybody else should not waste time telling me how to manage my every step. That is an insight Hayek had as the result of his own bitter experience. What a great idea.

    I was about to write that no man can be opposed to efficiency, but then no man can do evil voluntarily, right?

    If a bunch of people want to found a commune, and if they buy local, let them. However, come winter, let me buy fresh lettuce at the store, or even a half pint of raspberries.

  5. Rod says:

    My old Agway field man once put it this way: one has both “psychic income” and “real income.” The problem, he said, was that farmers have too much psychic income and not enough real income. Of Harry likes the idea of going out to his raspberry patch and picking raspberries without having to go to the store to buy them, he’s undoubtedly doing it for psychic income. Farmers do this on a big scale: they like planting things and seeing them grow and then doing things like filling silos and feeding silage to their cattle friends. I used to just enjoy the sight of black and white cattle in a green pasture. New Yorkers who spend nearly all of their incomes on the necessities of life are no different: they like the smells of exhaust fans in the sidewalk and being close to sweaty strangers on the subway. And once or twice a year they shoot the works on dinner at the Rainbow Restaurant just to see the city lights.

    I was going to comment on the apparent paradox between left-wingers love of government and their aversion to government in their pre-30’s years. (Never trust anyone over thirty).

    I know it’s illogical to generalize from my own anecdotal experience, but most liberals I know have what one would call foundational beliefs, where one would start with principles derived either from reason or religion and from what they would identify as sound philosophy, like logical positivism or even the Laffer Curve. Few of them are actually communists, and fewer still have even read Hegel and Marx. They have instead seen the Marx brothers, and they follow by reflex the talking points of the Democratic Party.

    Above all, they do and say what they think is cool and trendy. They buy Saabs and Volvos instead of Cadillacs. They go to the theater and the ballet, especially if the actors are well-known lefties. They shop at Whole Foods and profess strong beliefs in natural and organic foods; they stay away from church, except, perhaps, Episcopal parishes where the priest is a gay woman. And when a black man runs for president promising hope and change, they swoon first and then vote. And they make sure their friends all know how trendy and cool they still are after all these years.

    Maybe I am the opposite. I always find myself taking the road less trodden, especially when it comes to politics. I still have my Toomey for Senate bumpersticker on my car. When I was 16, I read Atlas Shrugged and thought I was a Randist. In college, I read the English positivists and became a libertarian. Now in my old age, I just want the government out of my life, so I vote for the candidates that move toward that goal.

  6. I suspect that part of localism is the desire for a society that’s small enough to be centrally planned.

  7. Harry says:

    Joseph, what an insight!

    I run my own small show, running my household and managing the kids who help me. Correction: if you are married, you do not run everything.

    Whatever your burden is to do what has to be done, however great or slight, we should all be happy whenever the Sheriff does not intervene to tell us to go to sleep and have a nice day tomorrow.

  8. Xamuel says:

    Well, part of it is that localism without centralized government would be unsafe: what’s to stop a bunch of other communes from uniting and then invading your locale and conquering it by force? Or, if the government monopolizes force but does not interfere with the market, you’ll get something almost as bad: deliberate financial attacks replace physical attacks (instead of attack your locale, the enemy refuses to trade with you, then sits back and waits til the next drought wipes you out).

Leave a Reply