Are higher transportation costs reversing globalization?

By samrose, published at 31 May 2008 - 2:41am, last updated 10 years 16 weeks ago.

Michel Bauwens recently sent this link in an email to the p2plist:

Along with the question: "Are higher transportation costs reversing globalization?"

My own answer:

Globalization was never a self-sustaining system to begin with. Globalization began in part (after WWII) precisely because local systems were too efficient for market mass producers. They needed governments to go "open up new markets" for them. But then the people on the receiving end started wanting something in return, so the governments also quietly but steadily started to look the other way while market mass producers made war on those local systems, to drive out local competition, and get their deal-cutting global networks in place as an only choice system.

This was always heavily subsidized by the largest and wealthiest governments. This is why apples from New Zealand are cheaper at my local grocery store than Michigan apples from 10 miles away!! I pay the remainder of the cost of New Zealand apples in the 1/3 of my earnings that go towards federal taxes. So, the Michigan apple was actually always cheaper in the first place.

Since we can't keep those subsidies up for ever, like oil and fuel and shipping lane subsidies, we'll be returning to local food systems, which will in part DEFINE this new century we are in. A shift from the unsustainable to the sustainable, for human and earth-system survival.

However, we don't all ride off happily into the sunset, unfortunately. All of those mass market producers, sitting on top of piles of money, are going to quickly catch whiff of the change. They are going to try to co-opt it. To make it look like they are also doing this local thing. But what they really will be doing is trying to do is go around and buy out and control these emerging local food systems.

Indeed, this could be the next financial "bubble" that we experience (at least in the US, anyway). With wild speculation based around green tech, local food systems, sustainable products and services, fueled by optimism and enthusiasm based around change in government (namely when Obama is elected president).

This is why people who are working to create local food system infrastructure need to be careful to make them a self-sustaining, community, collaborative, peer-governed system. They also need to be more agile, more adaptable than behemoth companies are. The people that make them up need to realize that they can do business with large companies, but that they should not put themselves in a position of relying on large companies, nor governments, for their existence. They will emerge on the other side of the "bubble" burst in a few years, as the entities that possess actual value once all of the ponzi and get rich quick schemes fall apart.

Additional useful related resources for thinking about this: great blog by war and systems analyst John Robb that looks at how declining globalization is moving us towards a networked global/localization that puts a lot of infrastructure for energy and food and other production back into communities.

On the advent of

On the advent of globalization: Didn't laundry go from California across the Pacific during an odd period of the 1800s?

On p2p in local food production: I'm not sure I entirely agree. Some things work p2p. Other things don't. I think there's a third position, separate from p2p and doing business with large companies: Grow your own. Anyone with a patch of dirt attached to their home, even if renting, would be well served to grow as much of their own food as possible. (Never will understand why we waste space and water on "lawns" when we could be feeding ourselves.) ;)