David Boyle from the New Weather Institute (a sort of nef on steroids) asks us to name the 'local economics' his organisation and others are promoting:
The prevailing economics of regeneration is based on the idea of comparative advantage. Places need to specialise, otherwise – heaven forfend – everywhere will have to build their own radios or cars or anything else.
Or so the old-world economists mutter when you suggest that ‘comparative advantage’ might be taken too far.
Because when it is, what you get is too few winners and far too many losers, places that are simply swept aside in the narrowly efficient new world, where only one place builds radios. Or grows carrots.
Now, as we know, comparative advantage - while not being the be all and end all of trade economics - is a pretty fundamental concept. And the idea that there will be only one place building radios because of 'comparative' advantage is, to put it mildly, nonsense. And here's a rabid right-wing economist to explain the nonsense - his name is Paul Krugman:
At the deepest level, opposition to comparative advantage -- like opposition to the theory of evolution -- reflects the aversion of many intellectuals to an essentially mathematical way of understanding the world. Both comparative advantage and natural selection are ideas grounded, at base, in mathematical models -- simple models that can be stated without actually writing down any equations, but mathematical models all the same. The hostility that both evolutionary theorists and economists encounter from humanists arises from the fact that both fields lie on the front line of the war between C.P. Snow's two cultures: territory that humanists feel is rightfully theirs, but which has been invaded by aliens armed with equations and computers.
Put simply the losers in David Boyle's 'local economics' are - as with protectionism everywhere - the consumers. This supposed 'resiliance', this much vaunted 'susatainability' and this self-important 'social responsibility' all comes at a cost. And that is higher prices, less choice and more poverty.
Getting people to scrat about in fields doing "sustainable local growing" is not an economic policy - it's a good idea, good for health, good for community but if it's your economic policy then it's a step back towards living in mud huts and relying on subsistence agriculture, the sort of policy Oxfam promotes in Africa rather than giving Africans access to trade, investment and economic growth.
What poor communities don't need is another bunch of middle-class sociology graduates arriving on their doorstep with another big hug. What they need are better schools, good homes and an idea that there's something beyond the horizon, a route out from poverty. What The New Weather Institute are offering is a future of gentile poverty with vegetable growing not a genuine economic future for poor communities.
The name for David Boyle's 'local economics' is an old one and a bad one: protectionism.