Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1999 17:43:03 -0600 (CST)
From: “Emilie F. Nichols” <>
Subject: “Free Trade:” Do You Want Them to Drink Coca-Cola?
Article: 81154
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

Do you want them to drink Coca-Cola?

By Helena Norberg-Hoge, Resurgence, November-December 1996

Here are some practical steps to move from global dependence to local interdependence

AROUND THE WORLD—from North to South, from far left to far right, recognition of the destructive effects of economic globalization is growing. However, the conviction that the solutions lie with localizing economic activity is far less widespread. Many people seem to find it difficult even to imagine a shift toward a more local economy. “Time has moved on” one hears. “We live in a globalized world.”

On the surface, this is a perfectly reasonable point of view. How, after all, can we expect to tackle today's global eco-social crises except on a global level? But it's not that simple. We need to distinguish between efforts merely to counter further globalization and efforts that can bring real solutions. The best way to halt the runaway global economy would undoubtedly be through multilateral treaties that would enable governments to protect people and the environment from the excesses of free trade. But such international steps would not in themselves restore health to economies and communities. Long-term solutions to today's social and environmental problems require a range of small, local initiatives that are as diverse as the cultures and environments in which they take place. When seen as going hand-in-hand with policy shifts away from globalization, these small-scale efforts take on a different significance. Most importantly, rather than thinking in terms of isolated, scattered efforts, it is helpfu

Moving toward the local can still seem impractical or utopian. One reason is the belief that an emphasis on the local economy means total self-reliance on a village level, without any trade at all. The most urgent issue today, however, isn’t whether people have oranges in cold climates but whether their wheat, eggs or milk should travel thousands of miles when they could be produced within a fifty-mile radius. In Mongolia, a country that has survived on local milk products for thousands of years and that today has twenty-five million milk-producing animals, one finds mainly German butter in the shops. In Kenya, butter from Holland is half the price of local butter; in England, butter from New Zealand costs far less than the local product; and in Spain, dairy products are mainly Danish. In this absurd situation, individuals are becoming dependent for their everyday needs on products that have been transported thousands of miles, often unnecessarily.

The goal of localization would not be to eliminate all trade but to reduce unnecessary transport while encouraging changes that would strengthen and diversify economies at both the community and national levels. The degree of diversification, the goods produced and the amount of trade would naturally vary from region to region.

Another stumbling-block is the belief that a greater degree of self-reliance in the North would undermine the economies of the Third World, where people supposedly need Northern markets to lift themselves out of poverty. The truth of the matter, however, is that a shift toward smaller scale and more localized production would benefit both North and South—and allow for more meaningful work and fuller employment all around. Today, a large portion of the South's natural resources is delivered to the North, on increasingly unfavourable terms, in the form of raw materials; the South's best agricultural land is devoted to growing food, fibres, even flowers, for the North; and a good deal of the South's labour is used to manufacture goods for Northern markets. Rather than further impoverishing the South, producing more ourselves would allow the South to keep more of its resources and labour for itself.

MANY INDIVIDUALS AND organizations are already working from the grass roots to strengthen their communities and local economies. Yet, for these efforts to succeed, they need to be accompanied by policy changes at the national and international levels. How, for example, can grassroots participatory democracy be strengthened unless limits are placed on the political power of huge corporations? How can local support alone enable small producers and locally owned shops to flourish if corporate welfare and free trade policies heavily promote the interests of large-scale producers and marketers? How can we return to a local context in education if monocultural media images continue to bombard children in every corner of the planet? How can local efforts to promote the use of locally available renewable energy sources compete against massive subsidies for huge dams and nuclear power plants?

Rethinking our direction means looking at the entire range of public expenditures:

IN ADDITION TO THE direct and indirect subsidies given them, large-scale corporate businesses also benefit from a range of government regulations—and in many cases, a lack of regulations—at the expense of smaller, more localized, enterprises. Although big business complains about red tape and inefficient bureaucracy, the fact is that much of it could be dispensed with if production were smaller in scale and based more locally. In today's climate of unfettered “free” trade, some government regulation is clearly necessary, and citizens need to insist that governments be allowed to protect their interests. This could best come about through international treaties in which governments agree to change the “rules of the game to encourage real diversification and decentralization in the business world. There are many areas that need to be looked at in this regard:

IN THE THIRD WORLD, the majority are still living in small towns and rural communities and are largely dependent on a local economy. In this era of rapid globalization, the most urgent challenge is to stop the tide of urbanization and globalization by strengthening these local economies. A number of policy level changes could help to do so:

These economic changes will inevitably require shifts at the personal level. In part, these involve rediscovering the deep psychological benefits of being embedded in community. Children, mothers and old people all know the importance of being able to feel they can depend on others.

Another fundamental shift involves reinstilling a sense of connection with the place where we live. The globalization of culture and information has led to a way of life in which the nearby is treated with contempt. We get news from China but not next door, and at the touch of a television button we have access to all the wildlife of Africa. As a consequence, our immediate surroundings seem dull and uninteresting by comparison. A sense of place means helping ourselves and our children to see the living environment around us: reconnecting with the sources of our food and learning to recognize the cycles of seasons, the characteristics of the flora and fauna.

Ultimately, we are talking about a spiritual awakening that comes from making a connection to others and to nature. This requires us to see the world within us, to experience more consciously the great interdependent web of life, of which we ourselves are among the strands.