Product Reviews from a Scientific Perspective

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review of The Constant Economy by Zac Goldsmith, Part II

Start at the beginning: Part I

Akin to economist EF Schumacher, Goldsmith emphasizes the importance of local trade and decision-making, and opposes our increasing globalization and large-scale economics. Goldsmith argues that countries and communities with political power that is diffused through the local levels have greater happiness and societal health. He argues for more direct democracy, as opposed to a government of representatives. [Here I must disagree, because such direct democracy leads to effective mob rule, nor can a mass of citizens decide knowledgeably on a complex issue. Goldsmith’s argument for direct democracy is his weakest and most ambiguous in this book.]

Economies should be localized in as many ways as possible. On the global level, relying on foreign crops, as the UK does, is unreliable and therefore ultimately unsustainable, as the nation becomes dependent upon the health of foreign societies. On the national level, any government-purchased food (for school cafeterias, prisons, hospitals) should be purchased from the farms local to the government buildings. In fact, one of Goldsmith’s suggestions is that food-growing become part of the public school curriculum, in
part to raise awareness of where our food comes from. Localization will also increase economy health, instead of the opposite; for example, local grocery markets (instead of supermarkets) produce twice as much income for the local economy.

Cities and towns should be designed with localization in mind. Currently, urban cities require the usage of cars, and cities are built and planned upon the assumption that everybody uses a car. Cars create a vicious cycle; more people commute to work, more out-of-town superstores kill local business, forcing more people to go out further for work and shopping. All this results in far greater pollution than necessary. Instead, workplaces grocery stores, shops, schools, hospitals, should all be in walking distance from the neighborhoods they serve. The communications technology, such as webcams, can be used to work at home, allowing parents to spend more time with family.

Part of localizing the economy and politics include decreasing our consumption. World Wildlife Fund (now known as the WWF) studies demonstrate that if everyone on earth consumed resources at the rate of the average American, we would need five Earths’ worth of resources. Our author writes that “the very fabric of our society depends on readily available oil. Whether for transport, food, clothing or consumer goods, we need a constant supply. It is not exaggeration to say that our entire economic system and way of life is based on the assumption of ever-available cheap oil.” Our dependence on oil, or rather, an endless supply of energy, is a primary reason we why need to localize our economy. A localized economy would result in less transportation needs, less energy to run local organic farms, less energy to manufacture chemicals, industrial products, etc.

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