Posts tagged with: Localism

little-way-ruthi-lemingIn his forthcoming book, author and journalist Rod Dreher chronicles his journey back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana, in “the wake of his younger sister Ruthie’s death.”

After spending time in St. Francisville during the final months of his sister’s life, Dreher, who left his hometown as a teenager and bounced around from city to city in the years proceeding, was struck by the support and generosity his sister received from the community.

In a column written shortly after Dreher’s decision to move back, David Brooks summarized the key drivers of Dreher’s homecoming:

They wanted to be enmeshed in a tight community. They wanted to be around Ruthie’s daughters, and they wanted their kids to be able to go deer hunting with Mike. They wanted to be where the family had been for five generations and participate in the rituals ranging from Mardi Gras to L.S.U. football. They decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.

The book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, sets out to further explain this experience and, in the process, emphasize the importance of community. Dreher, who writes regularly at The American Conservative, is well known for his communitarian views, yet despite falling short at times on the role of the market in shaping community life, he is not overly eager to push us into a Wendell-Berry cookie cutter, recognizing that technology does have its benefits, even in community life. In a recent back-and-forth with Acton’s very own Jordan Ballor, Dreher noted that “the localism and the kind of conservatism I favor will in many cases only be feasible through the Internet.”

Finding a “balance” or “fusion” or “integration” in this wide overlap between and across economic mobility and stable community life is a tricky thing for us to understand and respond to. Based on what I’ve heard and read thus far, I trust that Dreher’s latest work will offer plenty of good meat for us to chew on when it comes to processing this and challenging our various perspectives.

In the latest Acculturated podcast, Dreher discusses the book with Ben Domenech and Abby Schachter, offering some strong challenges to modern America’s often distorted approach to flourishing. Toward the end of the discussion, Domenech asks what advice Dreher would give to a young person struggling to preserve some sense of community while contemplating things like vocation, career, and basic economic wherewithal.

Dreher’s response hits just the right notes, explaining how there’s no single path to the features he’s elevating. For Dreher, it ultimately comes down to active obedience, discernment, and attention to both individual calling and our basic human need for community: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 28, 2011

Glenn Barkan, retired dean of Aquinas College’s School of Arts and Sciences here in Grand Rapids, had a piece worth reading in the local paper over the weekend related the current trend (fad?) toward buying local. In “What’s the point of buying local?” Barkan cogently addresses three levels of the case for localism in a way that shows that the movement need not have the economic, environmental, or ethical high ground.

At the economic level, Barkan asks, “Does the local stuff taste better than the imported stuff?” This is essentially a question about competitive advantage. This is the economic idea that some locations, given geographic, cultural, or other features, are better places to produce certain things than other places. Try as one might, it is difficult to grow mangoes in Michigan.

But one of the arguments against large-scale (statewide, national, or global) trade is that there are large environmental consequences. To this point, Barkan writes, “Following this thread means that most decisions which in the past were made on a variety of criteria will now be made only upon the criteria of consuming resources in transportation. How can I keep my carbon footprint small? No more Swiss chocolate, Italian cheese or French wine. Is this what we want?” I think that is what many of the localists in fact do want. It is somehow immoral for me, living in Michigan, to consume mangoes grown in Mexico.

What these kinds of considerations lead to is the moral claim that, in Barkan’s case, for instance, “I have some sort of moral obligation to buy Granny Smith apples from Michigan, and not from Washington.” To this Barkan responds that one mark of moral calculation is discerning where needs really lie: “If I had to choose between making a purchase which provided an income for a very needy family in Alabama, or a less needy family in Kent County, I think I would choose the former.” And better yet, given the relative wealth of even the poor in America on a global scale, we might say that poor workers in the developing world need trade more than the relatively poor in America.

An article in the Spring issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality makes the implications of these kinds of considerations quite well. In “Social Choice: The Neighborhood Effect,” Brian K. Strow and Claudia W. Strow write in the context of wealth redistribution, “a lower-middle-class worker by Massachusetts standards may be a net beneficiary of income redistribution at the Commonwealth definition of society but is likely to be a net contributor at the national definition. They most certainly would lose the vast majority of their income if the world were used as the definition of society.”

The payoff for Barkan is that “a soul is a soul. Whether it is a Kent county soul, or one from California, or Ghana. I choose to have my purchasing decision do the most good for the most needy. Regardless of localism.”

Or as economist Victor Claar put it, “we should treat people as people, no matter where they happen to live. We are all created in the image of God. I find it distressing that we protect relatively affluent Americans when we should give everybody an opportunity to do something they can do well, at a low cost, in a high quality way.”

A person’s a person, no matter how far.

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Thursday, October 13, 2011

I can always find common ground with the Distributists I meet. We want to replace the government-corporate cronyism that characterizes so much of our current economic system. And we want our culture to raise up young people with the skills, virtues and freedom to accumulate productive capital and invest it in ways that promote human flourishing for themselves and others.

But then there’s the question of centralized political power in the economy. Sometimes when Distributism is described, you get the sense that Distributism and one of its leading early proponents, Hilaire Belloc, have always been committed to a largely grass roots, bottom-up strategy of change. But Belloc himself painted a different picture in An Essay on the Restoration of Property:

We must seek political and economic reforms which shall tend to distribute property more and more widely until the owners of sufficient Means of Production (land or capital or both) are numerous enough to determine the character of society…. The effort at restoring property will certainly fail if it is hampered by a superstition against the use of force as the handmaid of Justice. (P.29)

So when I have a conversation with Distributists, the first thing I like to clear up is what they mean by Distributism. Do they merely want people and companies to model best-Distributist practices voluntarily, so as to propagate Distributist ideas and behaviors in a free marketplace of ideas? Do they just want to get the federal government out of the job of picking winners and losers in the economy? Or do they also want to vote in politicians who will arrogate to the federal government expanded powers to seize and redistribute private property and keep it more evenly distributed?

Until those questions are cleared up, the opportunities for muddle and fog are just too great to bother wading in.

Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property, (Norfolk, Virginia: IHS Press, 2002).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky has the cover story for the upcoming issue of WORLD magazine, and it’s worth reading in full, “The revival of localism.”

Olasky’s basic narrative focuses on “young men and women who understand that they are Christian pilgrims in this world—but they expect to stay in one place, making friends and being of service, unless and until God moves them on.”

He has a number of salient data points and interesting interviews, including Caleb Stegall, the exemplar of Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons. Economically-speaking an emphasis on localism can easily embrace distributism.

Thus, writes Olasky,

An emphasis on local control of government, local production and consumption of goods, and local culture is popular among young Christians. Their favorite author is often a pre-baby-boom author and Kentucky farmer, 76-year-old Wendell Berry. Berry praises reverence for God and life, the pleasures of good work, good food, and frugality. He says those joys are more likely to be found in healthy rural communities that value small farms and don’t overdose on technology.

But Olasky’s is, I think, a generally accurate assessment, and one that provides a good entry point to ongoing cultural developments. The Acton Institute has lived out this emphasis on decentralization, in one sense, and has from the beginning, by locating itself out of the Beltway by design. Olasky’s piece is sub-titled, “Young conservatives reject lure of Washington, D.C., in favor of a more powerful place-home.”

One shorter term economic driver is only mentioned in passing by Olasky: “…declining property values have crushed many hopes of upward mobility.”

The housing bubble has crushed not only upward mobility but also mobility more generally. The myth of the rootless generation is going to be demolished by the mere fact that anyone who bought a house in the last ten years is generally going to be unable to get out from under it for perhaps the next decade. That’s just about a generation of relatively immobile homeowners.