Have you heard about localism? Times of crisis have the ability to highlight things that have already been troublesome for a while. When money disappears and political agendas are exposed, these troubles often come to the front. One such simmering challenge is globalism. International trade and a global perspective are so important and the fear of nationalism is so real, that one might have missed another option. Localism.
Globalisation has brought us many opportunities and it is a concept with many positive attributes. Global trade relations and the economic contribution of foreign currency – especially for developing economies – are crucial. I also love that a global perspective brings an understanding and appreciation of other cultures and ideas, that it makes us broad-minded and informed. International travel and tourism are not even considered to be luxuries anymore and we have friends and family living in all corners of the world. I can’t help but like this idea.
But, it has been clear for a while that globalisation has become a thread in the minds of many. Trump and Brexit are the best examples any one could ask for. Globalisation and the accompanying migration started to challenge local business and familiar practices. Nationalist movements seemed to be the answer to those who felt they have to protect their own. Reading and listening to the thoughts and opinions of so many great minds during these times, I have come to realise that there is another option on the table – and according to Kevin Albertson on theconversation.com it isn’t nationalism.
If there is one thing that Corona has showed us, it is that we need our local communities. Tim du Plessis writes on Netwerk24 that what we really need are the local shops, farms, police, bank, library, doctors, etc. in our community. When we are under pressure, we need the basic services, but we also need people who know us and care about us – a community where we are more than a number. In the times of lockdown, we are searching for communities online and yes, online has become our go-to to help ourselves through these difficult times. I guess, however, that while we might use technology much more in future as we know that we can have productive meetings without facing traffic and that we can pay securely and order our wine online… we will also, more than ever before, crave human interaction.
On theguardian.com, Simon Jenkins says: “When systems fail, geography matters.” Tim du Plessis also quotes Solidarity’s Flip Buys, who used the example of a retirement home in a rural village that would in crisis, rather contact the community than the closest government office. Communities can often better mobilise and help. It is not always just about money. We’ve seen this during lockdown as well. Communities help – whether they stitch face masks or compile food parcels or volunteer to cook or nurse.
But it is also about what happens post-Corona. Should we go back to the almost medieval concept of localism? Can the romantic French village idea of boulangerie, pâtisserie, fromagerie… be realistic? While it makes us aware of how much we need those around us, does Corona not also show us how much we need international trade and the bigger picture perspective? With wine exports not allowed during lockdown, we’ve seen the immense financial impact (estimated to be R2.5 billion) in a matter of a few weeks. International business contributes on a bigger scale, it has the ability to make a significant GDP contribution and it enables job creation to a degree that the local store can’t do. Of course Covid-19 insights can be easily communicated between countries and the global village idea also extends to social interaction. Have you joined the Facebook group, View from my Window? People in lockdown all over the world share a piece of their daily lives and there is something very communal about that regardless of distance and culture. At the same time, however, informal businesses, local start-ups and SME’s stay very important to a country’s economy. Small shops, owner-run businesses and markets supply a livelihood and from a social perspective, they bring direct help and immediate community. Especially in the South African environment where there are many small and rural communities, being self-proficient in a way that is economically viable and socially supportive, is of the utmost importance.
As with all things in life, it is about balance and sometimes it takes a crisis to get the equilibrium right.
As devastating as Covid-19 is to human life and economies all over the world, we have a responsibility to take all we can from this crisis to learn, to make better decisions and to try and correct the balance. Localism is one such learning, something we should definitely consider. “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”, says Milton Friedman. Let’s make sure the change is for the better.