Global / Local

I don’t trust [Steven Pinker’s] optimism […] more and more kinetic energy, like war, has been turned into potential energy, like unused nuclear weapons - [but] if you don’t have a potential energy term, then everything’s just getting better and better.

[Eric Weinstein]

The tide is out, and globalism is exposed. In its place, watch for the rise of localism.

This won’t be some Jeffersonian agrarian world where we’re all threshing our own wheat, but a complex, locally–adapted system that is vibrant and resilient because it’s interconnected but not centrally controlled. 

Our current supply chain and financial system evolved by using standardization to create efficiencies. Finding “synergies” led to geometric growth of certain companies, lowering nominal costs for customers and concentrating decision-making among few. For example, four companies are now responsible for 70% of the pork production in the U.S.

The sticker price might appear lower at the grocery store, but hidden costs exist.

Think of it this way: A $4 Mr. C’s hotdog sounds like a deal, but it comes with the low-probability kicker that if a virus/terrorist/cyber-attack occurs, we might be sheltering in place for an extended period of time and our economy could go down the toilet along with millions of jobs. Now consider a locally–sourced hotdog that costs $5, $6, or even $15. Localism would likely result in higher nominal cost, but if localized decision-making, supply chains and finance prevented being shut-in at home, hoping centralized governments and corporations can avoid being overwhelmed, what is that worth?

Some things are better managed at scale, just not ALL things. By pushing most decision-making to the locally-dispersed, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “fractal localism”, we can maximize customization, adaptation, and responsiveness while still keeping those systems and institutions that are most effective across locales.

[Eric Weatherholtz]
'Localism: Retail’s Coronavirus Hangover Cure'

Things appeared to be getting better and better but our prosperity was built on credit. The things we gained came at the price of an increasingly fragile system, caused by ever-increasing imbalances.


1. The principle of subsidiarity which holds that the state should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.

2. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function.

3. Subsidiarity assumes that people are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, trade unions and other voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole.

4. But the principle of subsidiarity also allows for some decisions to be taken at regional or national (or indeed international) levels, for example in order to protect human rights or for reasons of social or economic justice.


What kind of Europe do you believe in?

It would be built on the strengths, cultures and heritage of its constituent nations. 

The fundamental principle which would guide its institutions would be that everything that can be done at family level would be entrusted to the family, everything that can be done at the local or regional or national level would be decentralized accordingly.

I believe that democracy functions properly when it is local and participatory.

[James Goldsmith]
The Trap, p. 65

What is the meaning of democracy, freedom, human dignity, standard of living, self-realisation, fulfilment? Is it a matter of goods, or of people? Of course it is a matter of people. But people can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. 

Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. 

If economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 62

In the United States, both classical and progressive liberals placed liberal nation-building at the core of its mission, particularly the transfer of political devotions from concrete localities to the abstraction of the nation.

One of the key differences between "conservatives” and “progressives” today is over whether liberalism can and should see its primary locus as the nation or the world.

Both sides share the view that liberalism is a universalist philosophy, but they differ over how best to advance that universalism. Mainstream conservatives have sought to advance liberal universalism through the vehicle of the nation, primarily through globalized economic policy and aggressively interventionist and even imperialist militarism.

Liberals believe that the nationstate must eventually be superseded by global governance, best represented today by the European Union.

[Patrick J. Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.xix

A core ambition of liberalism is the liberation of such appetites from the artificial constraints of culture either to liberate them entirely as a condition of our freedom, or, where they require constraint, to place them under the uniform and homogenized governance of promulgated law rather than the inconstant impositions and vagaries of diverse cultures.

From the outset, proponents of liberalism understood that cultural constraints over expression and pursuit of appetite were obstacles to the realization of a society premised upon unleashing erstwhile vices (such as greed) as engines of economic dynamism, and that state power might be required to overturn cultural institutions responsible for containing such appetites.

Today, with the success of the liberal project in the economic sphere, the powers of the liberal state are increasingly focused on dislocating those remaining cultural institutions that were responsible for governance of consumer and sexual appetite-purportedly in the name of freedom and equality, but above all in a comprehensive effort to displace cultural forms as the ground condition of liberal liberty.

Only constraints approved by the liberal state itself can finally be acceptable. The assumption is that legitimate limits upon liberty can arise only from the authority of the consent-based liberal state.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.69

Community begins with the family but extends outward to incorporate an appropriate locus of the common good. For [Wendell] Berry, the common good can be achieved only in small, local settings.

These dimensions cannot be precisely drawn, but Berry seems to endorse the town as the basic locus of commonweal, and the region mainly in the economic and not interpersonal realm. He is not hostile toward a conception of national or even international common good, but he recognizes that the greater scope of these larger units tends toward abstraction, which comes always at the expense of the flourishing of real human lives.

Larger units than the locality or the region can flourish in the proper sense only when their constitutive parts flourish.

Modern liberalism, by contrast, insists on the priority of the largest unit over the smallest, and seeks everywhere to impose a homogenous standard on a world of particularity and diversity. One sees this tendency everywhere in modern liberal society, from education to court decisions that nationalize sexual morality, from economic standardisation to minute and exacting regulatory regimes.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.80-1

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