Friday, 9 December 2011

Resilience and global trade

The Ayrshire coast is known for its palm trees. However, banana plants are hard to find, so even committed supporters of local produce have to eat imported bananas. Some parts of the resilience movement seem to have a real down on global trade, and I am not sure why. This antipathy seems to go without question as an unstated assumption, and I haven't found a coherent analysis. Having had the pleasure of working in the shipping community for some years I am aware of a) just how little it costs to move bananas from the Caribbean to Scotland  and b) just how old world trade is. Growing bananas in the warm and transporting them by reefer seems a 'good thing' to me. Why does the resilience movement think it a 'bad thing'? Is it:
  1. Old Western currencies are going to devalue massively and we will not be able to compete with Brazilians in the banana market, so get used to it now. (However, they will buy our tatties because they are so cheap).
  2. Energy costs will spiral upwards and shipping costs will become unaffordable. I can remember life before central heating, but if energy costs reach this level, there will be serious problems.
  3. The banana producing and transporting industrial complex is part of the old order crony corporatism and we don't want anything to do with it. Courses in banana ethics available online.
  4. Scotland is going to become a world leader in banana production, as soon as we have sorted out trams, windmills and bridges. Hold your banana order till then. Scotland exporting bananas to the world will be a 'good thing' unlike other countries exporting things to Scotland, which is of course a 'bad thing'.
  5. We just want to cut down on trade, with no rationale to it. Tatties taste like bananas if you close your eyes. Just get on with it. Yes, we know the history of protectionism is awful, but this is localism, so it is different (huh?).
  6. Any day now, you will be able to 3D print bananas locally, so hold your order till then. Costs of printer cartridges from Taiwan TBD.
There may be some moral merit in 3, depending on your morality, but it would be difficult in practice to be absolutist about it. I cannot see any merit in the other possibilities.
So - what are the criteria for buying local vs. global? Presumably they go beyond short-term economics, but what are they?
(For the literal minded, the McBanana story above is an illustration of a general problem}.

Adam Smith (who was an influence on Ricardo) had this to say on localism / protectionism:
By means of glasses, hotbeds, and hotwalls, very good grapes can be raised in Scotland, and very good wine too can be made of them at about thirty times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries ... As long as the one country has those advantages, and the other wants them, it will always be more advantageous for the latter, rather to buy of the former than to make.” Adam Smith (1776)

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