by JL Wall

I, too, have been somewhat remiss in my bloggerly duties as of late — it seems that my weekly internet breaks have grown from Saturdays to include Sundays, Mondays, and occasionally Fridays and Tuesdays — unfortunately, all other productivity is usually shot on those days, also, so I’m getting nothing out of it.  Which makes me wonder what I’m doing with my time.

In the meantime, Nathan Origer put together a lengthy but worthwhile manifesto of sorts on localism, capitalism, trade, and the sort.  You should read it, but in case you don’t/haven’t, the conundrum, in short: “Can we reconcile free-trade economics to our quaint, but truly conservative, localism? If so, how? Or is ‘protectionism’ the answer?”

E.D. Kain has responded (again, choose the original over my summary, if you would), and concludes:

In the end, though, there are simply no palatable alternatives to free trade, to organic markets.  All that means, in the end, is that people are allowed to trade freely with one another without the long arm of the state getting in the way.  The supply is not kept from those who demand it.  The demand is not artificially created.  People go about their lives at liberty to do so.  Protection is the state, and it acts in ways that seek not to protect us but to protect big corporations or labor unions at our expense and without our consent.  Government intervention more often than not helps subsidize our shallow, consumerist culture, and there is very little to suggest the government can return us to any place of virtue – of “place, limits or liberty” as it were.  We are better left to our own better or worse natures, and to do as we see fit to shape our own way in the world.  Hopefully left alone, and diverted from the culture of entitlement and consumerism we’ve drawn about ourselves, we can build something better.

That’s a start.  Government certainly isn’t going to be able to induce the values of place and limits necessary to the establishment and survival of that late lamented “local(ist)” virtue.  Virtue and community, if they are truly virtue and community, are organic.  But it’s only a start, even though it’s usually the point at which I stop.  If there’s a broad vision of where things need to be — government withdrawing precisely enough to ensure that “[t]he demand is not artificially created” so that “left alone … we can build something better” — then the next step is to figure out how we get there.

Any “new localism” or “return to community” won’t — can’t — look like any previous incarnation of local values of place and community.  Certain things — like the interstate highway system, as a commenter at the League has pointed out — are here and not going anywhere.  Not only has national government power grown over the course of my life and yours, but the momentum seems to continue swinging in that direction: one major party clamoring for the federal government to assume its right to the power to provide massive new entitlement programs while the other demands that we all accept the government’s rightful assumption of its long-latent authority to torture and indefinite detention.

If government is to be limited along with appetite, then active policy prescriptions that recognize and engage the present situation are needed.  If (terribile dictu!) the magnetism of centralized power is not to be stopped or reversed anytime soon, then there needs to be a strategy designed to mitigate the damage to place and community, and even with that centralization, to strengthen them.  I’m all for nostalgia, and my romantic attraction to Lost Causes is going to bite me one of these days, but if the best policy offered by those who long for stronger local community and the restoration of place and limits is to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, then that is precisely what will happen — and at the end of the day, those so inclined will sit wistfully mourning the better days of the past while the rest of the nation continues to move farther and farther away.

This isn’t my strong-suit — I’m no policy-wonk or would-be wonk, have exceptionally limited knowledge of formal economics, and prefer the abstract a little too strongly to the practical — so I certainly include myself in that critique.  But if the localist and anti-(or even post-)modern critiques of society are going to move beyond lament — or simply beyond being easily caricatured as nothing more than lament — there needs to be debate about where we go and — more importantly — how we get there.  Nathan touched on it briefly in his original post and then in some more detail in the comments to E.D.’s by bringing up differential and land-value taxation.  But, like E.D.’s concluding paragraph and much of my daily read, it’s only a beginning.