In the wake of liberal globalism’s failings, a nationalist tide is rising today, not only in China and Russia but also throughout the West. It is a dynamic eerily similar to 100 years ago, when war, pandemic and economic insecurity brought national tensions to the surface. Yet today’s undoubted turn against globalism need not herald a return to the dark days of aggressive nationalism. Instead, we are seeing the rise of a new community-based and self-governing model of localism.
This new localism counteracts some of the worst aspects of globalism – homogeneity, deindustrialisation and ever-growing class divides – while eschewing the authoritarian tendencies often associated with nationalistic fervour. It essentially seeks to replace, where possible, mass institutions and production with local entrepreneurship and competition.
This approach has demonstrated remarkable appeal. The promising evolution of technologies like remote work and 3D printing is already creating opportunities to enhance local economies. In the US, strong majorities trust local governments, compared to the more than half who lack trust in Washington, notes Gallup. Big companies, banks and media receive low marks from the public, but small businesses continue to enjoy widespread support across party lines.
This is not merely an American phenomenon. In France there have been consistent protests against globalisation for decades. Poland and the rest of eastern Europe, recovering from decades of central control and imperial edicts from Moscow, have also favoured localism. There is also pushback against federal encroachment in Canada, while the UK’s turn against globalism was best exemplified by its withdrawal from the EU.
The movement against globalism constitutes an alternative to increasingly intrusive government: such as in Europe, where the unelected EU bureaucracy seeks ever-expanding powers, and in North America and Australia, where national bureaucracies work to undermine traditionally vibrant local communities. It also has strong connections to populism, particularly in Europe. Its base, small business, tends to tilt to the right in most countries, including the US.
Yet the new localism is not fundamentally a question of left vs right. It is about sustaining local economies and self-governing institutions. According to Kevin Albertson, professor of economics at Manchester University, in politics today it often seems that the only choice on offer is between ‘big state or big business’. Faced with this unenviable dilemma, he argues, the ‘only viable alternative’ is localism – that is, ‘small state and small business’.
Essentially, localism looks to humanise the economy. Whereas global or national conglomerates respond largely to capital flows, local businesses rely heavily on networks of customers and suppliers. In the food industry, many start off as home-based businesses, and then become food trucks. Some evolve into modest restaurants, and occasionally open numerous locations, usually in the same region. These offer an alternative to the sameness of chain stores, at a time when many once ubiquitous traditional venues – pubs in London, bistros in Paris, as well as kosher delicatessens and Greek diners in places like New York – have declined.
Read the rest of this piece at Spiked.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.