international government

Review of Going Local

Going Local, by Michael H. Shuman. Free Press, 1998. Hard cover, 256 pages. List price $24.

reviewed by Adam Jon Monroe, Jr.

"Localization, Localization, Localization"

As its title cleverly conveys, Going Local is primarily a study of the movement to counter negative effects from globalization. Globalization is the modern version of imperialism in which national and international business law, which, perhaps, lacks the human touch of traditional imperialism, has come to supersede the authority of local governments and the wishes of local communities. The destructive economic and environmental effects of this new world order have been documented by a great many other b ooks recently, the most referenced of which is, perhaps, David C. Korten's compelling and well-researched ground-breaker, When Corporations Rule the World (Kumarian Press, 1995). But, while most books on the subject seem but to list complaints about these increasing tendencies, Going Local is clearly intended to offer the beginning, at least, of research into their possible antidote.

In his acknowledgments, author Michael Shuman mentions that Free Press editors urged him to write an entire book about what was previously but a paragraph in his original proposal for one, concerning the emerging overlap in "left and right" politics. Tha t paragraph suggested that progressives should, rather than just fight the interests of corporations, form new types of "community-friendly businesses." In the course of his book, Shuman, in addition to describing a great variety of efforts cur rently underway which hold the promise of positive effects on cities and other localities, suggests several creative ideas of his own for ways concerned citizens could protect and foster the well-being of their communities despite the menace posed by grow ing corporate power. Overall, though, the emergence and development, from this project, of a new perspective on social problems seems its most significant contribution.

The immediately apparent aid provided by Going Local is as a clearinghouse of ideas for activists and public officials. The 67 page appendix (nearly a quarter of the book) is broken down into over 80 different categories of activity for strengthening loc al communities, all of which are covered to some degree within the main body of the text. Each contains a brief description of that arena and a list of contact information for organizations which might assist one in learning more about the positive resul ts achieved to date and how one might pursue that particular species of activism.

The variety of initiatives discussed is very broad. Topics include local currencies, which have helped circulate wealth within communities rather than have it "escape"; "green taxes," which, by shifting tax burdens from productivity t o pollution, can promote more truly sustainable development; selective purchasing programs, wherein potential consumers are made aware of which competing businesses are considered the most "community-friendly"; community development corporations and financial institutions, which specialize in business and lending practices deemed "pro-local" and, of course, the re-emerging utility of the prescription by American economist Henry George.

The author's tone is decidedly explorative, at times curious, at times authoritative and, occasionally, even jocular. This is helpful, for, since not every type of initiative will interest every reader, some descriptions thereof run the risk of becoming overly technical. It is also an appropriate manner of voice for a book which doesn't offer a specifically comprehensive plan of action for combating the destructive effects of an increasingly dangerous phenomenon. Even so, due to the sincerity of the au thor's efforts, such a paradigm does begin to emerge.

Shuman is careful to point out that what he promotes in Going Local is not "protectionism," as opposed to free trade, but it may seem that way. For example, "corporate mobility" seems his most feared malefactor, but other undesirables are the pursuit of and reliance on federal programs and hand-outs. Also, the protective methods he describes are far more coexistent with free trade than are such ham-handed measures as international tariffs. Far easier for small communities to initiat e, tailored to the particular needs of each and functional despite what other communities might be doing, Shuman's recommendations would be better characterized as "insulationism."

In Going Local, Shuman plays the role of an enabling teacher to students angry and frustrated with what they see happening in the world and who have but worn out hand-me-down methods of combat against corporate tyranny. By broaching the subject in a fre sh and open-minded way, the author demonstrates how, with a combination of neighborly consideration and economic savvy, activists can work with local businesses and political agents on common ground projects to better the world by focusing on their own ba ckyards. He disdains remaining in a crossed arm, accusatory position toward those who may simply need a little education and assistance to do a better job with their governance and business techniques.

The least obvious, but possibly most helpful aspect of Going Local is through the author's discussion of this new attitude on the part of many activists, businesses and local officials. The most interesting phrase among the terminology used in this discu ssion is Shuman's description of a new kind of economics, as he calls it, an "economics of place." It will be understood that what he means by this is that various locales need to be more mindful of their particular needs and abilities in relat ion to those of the global corporate hegemony. But, when considered alongside other oft-used phraseology in the book, such as "engines of self-reliance" and "localism," it may be seen by some that Shuman is, though perhaps accidental ly, exploring a form of economic understanding far more accessible than the traditional mode and far more useful in overcoming its ubiquitous impotence.

I hope a great number of people will read Going Local. It's extremely informative, easy to read and can help people make a real difference in the world and their own home towns, not someday, but today, which would be good.

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