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Local Nonsense

Bill McKibben is no fan of industrial capitalism and globalization.  In his latest book, Deep Economyreviewed in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review — he calls on people to develop local economies and, hence, to reject most economic ties that span the globe and even the nation.

I have yet to read the book, but assuming that the NYT review by Lance Morrow does it justice, Mr. McKibben parades out all the now-familiar reasons why global commerce allegedly is a scourge — in particular, it depletes the earth’s resources and threatens to destroy the environment.  Local economies, McKibben argues, are the solution to these looming dangers.

I doubt that McKibben knows what he’s talking about.  That is, I doubt that he has any real appreciation for just how much our lives depend upon global commerce and industry.  I doubt that he understands that each of us daily depends for our standards of living — indeed, for our very lives — on the creativity and efforts of tens of millions of people worldwide.

If we were to follow McKibben’s advice, we would be not merely inconvenienced; we would suffer not merely small reductions in our prosperity; we would do without not just the latest trinkets, electronic gadgets, and clothing fashions.  Many of us would die.  And most of us who manage to survive to the ripe old age of 60 or so would live lives that are dreary, toilsome, perilous, poor, and filthy.

A while back, Jacqueline Passey sent to me a cartoon that now hangs on my office door.  In it, two cavemen are chatting as they sit in their cave-home.  One says to the other "Something’s just not right – our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and yet nobody lives past thirty."  Funny — but very true.

Whatever plausible risks global warming and other environmental problems pose to humanity are nothing as compared to any serious attempt to reject global commerce and industry in favor of living in local economies.  McKibben’s prescription would kill billions of us.

And as my friend George Leef, of the Pope Center, points out, McKibben’s prescription would ironcially also likely require a vast, global government possessing awesome powers to force we humans to live — and to keep living — in local economies.

Humankind unimaginably poor and enslaved.  That would be the nightmare result for nearly everyone on earth of any real effort to implement the uninformed dreams of romantics such as McKibben.