By Chris Felt
In their post Why Localism?, Archer and Fegley argue that the size of the United States government has grown to such an extent that it has now become too large. The government is too large because it cannot adequately represent and serve the 300 million citizens that reside within its jurisdiction. Archer and Fegley suggest that the government inadequacies are readily apparent in two key areas: education and environmental conservation. In education, the federal government attempts to satisfy the unique educational needs of localities by enacting a general education policy that produces only frustration and inefficiencies. The EPA also seeks to solve the local environmental issues which would be better handled by local departments such as the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Local departments have greater insight into what is necessary for environmental protection for their local areas. Archer and Fegley claim that centralization of power in the federal government is not only ineffective but also potentially dangerous. Archer and Fegley state that atrocities such as those that occurred during the regimes of Nazism, Fascism, and Communism are logical outcomes of the centralization of power.
The views expressed by Archer and Fegley are those that are easily accepted by the other well known localism movement which is built upon the works of E.F. Schumacher. However, Archer and Fegley have only expressed agreement with the political aspect of this movement. This movement also emphasizes a social aspect. The social aspect includes many ideas but the basic ones are buying local, human scale technology, and simple living. Archer asserted in the June 19 podcast that in order for personal relationships and a sense of community to flourish, the proper size for a political unit needs to be the city. I argue that not only is a city-size political unit important for personal relationships and community, the acceptance of the social aspect is also necessary.
The first basic idea of localism is buying locally which is crucial to a community in at least two ways. First, in his book, Deep Economy, Bill McKibben argues that when a community buys food locally, it requires people to go to the local farmer’s market and interact with their neighbors and the local farmers providing the food (54). Not only does buying food locally provide interaction for the citizens of a community but also the farmer is able to keep a greater portion of his profits than if he had sold it to a large distributor. McKibben uses the example of the chicken farmer. He states that, “In return for a $250,000 start-up investment of his savings, the average chicken farmer takes an annual net income of $8,160”. McKibben contrasts this rate of return with the 35 percent that farmers received right after WWII, when buying local was more common (54-55). When people buy food locally, the farmer is able to keep a greater portion of the profits which is then able to stay within the local economy longer instead of being centralized within a large company that is located elsewhere.
Human scale technology is the second basic idea and refers to the employment small scale capital products. Human scale technology includes any kind of product that can be easily purchased and used by a single individual. By having access to small scale capital, an individual will have a greater capacity to employ himself for productive use. This capacity also reduces the need to work within a business to acquire gainful employment. According to E.F. Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful, when capital is large and expensive it tends to be concentrated in the hands of only few owners (29). From this type of capital employment, people are required to find work within larger firms that, typically, do not care about the community where they are located. For instance, consider the case of Wal-Mart. McKibben states that whenever a Wal-Mart moves into a community, many local stores perish. When these local stores perish, the personal relationship that they foster, also disappear (106). Of course, not all products that are required for a comfortable living can be produced locally. However, a community should strive to produce as much as it can locally in order to reduce its dependence on large, national producers who do not share the concerns of the community.
The last basic concept of localism is ‘simple living’ and it acts as reinforcement for the other basic concepts. Simple living means being able to live with less; it can be understood as the antithesis of the consumerist culture that is ubiquitous in today’s society. Simple living is a prerequisite to buying locally because of the limit of what can be produced locally. For instance, an act of simple living would be limiting the amount of imports one purchases. In order to cultivate local community based on the local economy, simple living would entail adopting a diet that is in harmony with what can be seasonally produced in the local area. Simple living is also important because the individual reduces dependence on an employer for an income. In order to encourage independence, simply living would require forgoing participating in the consumerist culture of needlessly buying new things and keeping up with fads. Simply living also means repairing things and buying used instead of purchasing brand new products. When people learn to repair and buy used goods, they will discover that they will not need to spend as much money. If they are able to stretch their dollar farther, then they will be able to spend less time working for a paycheck. The extra time could then contribute to the vitality of the community in the form of volunteering for local causes and attending local events.
Politically, Archer and Fegley have expressed agreement with the other localism movement. However, I have argued that both the social and economic aspects of the movement also need to be accepted if Boise is to be a prosperous community. The aspects proposed by the other localism movement include buying locally produced goods, encouraging individual production, and embracing simple living. If the ideas presented in this post are underwhelming, it is, most assuredly, because of my incomplete treatment of them. The localism movement possesses a wealth of ideas of which deserve further, in-depth discussion.