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Localism describes a range of political philosophies which prioritize the local. Generally, localism supports local production and consumption of goods, local control of government, and promotion of local history, local culture and local identity. Localism can be contrasted with regionalism and centralized government, with its opposite being found in the unitary state.
Localism can also refer to a systematic approach to organizing a central government so that local autonomy is retained rather than following the usual pattern of government and political power becoming centralized over time.
On a conceptual level, there are important affinities between localism and deliberative democracy. This concerns mainly the democratic goal of engaging citizens in decisions that affect them. Consequently, localism will encourage stronger democratic and political participatory forums and widening public sphere connectivity.
Localists assert that throughout the world's history, most social and economic institutions are scaled at the local level, as opposed to regional, interregional, or global (basically until the late 19th to the early 20th centuries). Through ongoing forms of colonialism, imperialism and industrial expansion local scales become less central. Most proponents of localism position themselves as defending aspects of this way of life; the phrase "relocalization" is often used in this sense.
In the 20th century, localism drew heavily on the writings of Leopold Kohr, E.F. Schumacher, Wendell Berry, and Kirkpatrick Sale, among others. More generally, localism draws on a wide range of movements and concerns and it proposes that by re-localizing democratic and economic relationships, social, economic and environmental problems will be more definable and solutions more easily created. They include anarchism, bioregionalism, environmentalism, the Greens, and more specific concerns about food, monetary policy and education. Political parties of all persuasions have also occasionally favored the devolution of power to local authorities. In this vein Alan Milburn, a Labour Party MP, has spoken of "making services more locally accountable, devolving more power to local communities and, in the process, forging a modern relationship between the state, citizens and services"
Beginning in the 1970s, a particularly visible strain of localism in the United States was a movement started by Alice Waters to buy locally produced products. This movement originated with organic farming and likely gained impetus because of growing dissatisfaction with organic certification and the failing economic model of industrial agriculture for small farmers. While the advocates of local consumption draw on protectionist arguments, they also appealed primarily to an environmental argument: that pollution caused by transporting goods was a major externality in a global economy, and one that "localvores" could greatly diminish. Also, environmental issues can be addressed when decision-making power is held by those affected by the issues instead of power sources that do not understand the needs of local communities.
Localism as a philosophy is related to the principle of subsidiarity.
In the early 21st century, localists have frequently found themselves aligned with critics of globalisation. Variants of localism are prevalent within the Green movement. According to an article in International Socialism, localism of this sort seeks to "answer to the problems created by globalisation" with "calls to minimise international trade and to seek to establish economies based on ‘local’ self-sufficiency only."
Some localists believe that society should be organised politically along community lines, with each community being free to conduct its own business in whatever fashion its people see fit. The size of the communities is defined such that their members are both familiar and dependent on each other, a size something along the lines of a small town or village.
In reference to localism, Edward Goldsmith, former editor of The Ecologist magazine, claims: "The problems facing the world today can only be solved by restoring the functioning of those natural systems which once satisfied our needs, i.e. by fully exploiting those incomparable resources which are individual people, families, communities and ecosystems, which together make up the biosphere or real world"
Tip O'Neill, a longtime Democratic Speaker of the House in the US Congress, once famously declared that "All politics is local". He eventually wrote a book by that name: All Politics Is Local: And Other Rules of the Game.
Wayne Yeung questions the assumption that localism is a sub-school of European-American populism. Yeung raised an example in which localism is a cultural or civic value rather than a value that supports ethnic understanding in Hong Kong identity politics.
Jane Wills argued that an increasing numbers of populist politicians are endorsing localism as a framework for public policy. She defined populism as a form of politics that involves people speaking in a register that is authentic to the experiences and needs of those people. In other words, most likely Populist Party policies would contradict parties that support the elites. She also used the term "anti-politics" to describe localist politicians because they stand against mainstream politics. She used the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) as an example of a party adopting localism into their policies. Mainstream politicians from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties were threatened by the rise of UKIP.
Many localists are concerned with the problems of developing countries. Many advocate that developing countries should aim to rely on their own goods and services to escape from what they see are the unfair trade relations with the developed world. George Monbiot claims this idea does not recognise the fact that, even if developing countries often get a raw deal in trade relations, refusing to trade at all would be a significant blow, as the countries need the revenue generated by trade.
Some localists are also against immigration from poor countries to rich ones. One of the problems they claim results from such immigration is the drain on the intellectual resources of poor countries, so called brain drain. For example, in the past decade, Bulgaria is estimated to have lost more than 50,000 qualified scientists and skilled workers through emigration every year. About a fifth of them were highly educated specialists in chemistry, biology, medicine and physics.
Some localists are against political intervention and peace keeping measures. They believe that communities should find solutions to their own problems and in their own time, in whatever fashion they decide. They believe that all societies are capable of achieving long term peace once given the opportunity to do so.
Localism usually describes social measures or trends which emphasise or value local and small-scale phenomena. This is in contrast to large, all-encompassing frameworks for action or belief. Localism can therefore be contrasted with globalisation, and in some cases localist activism has parallels with opposition to corporate-led globalization. Localism can be geographical, but there are also transnational linkages. Localist movements are often organized in support of locally owned, independent businesses and nonprofit organizations. Although the focus of this aspect of localist activism is on "buy local," "support local food," and "bank local" campaigns, some organizations and businesses also combine the goal of increased local ownership with environmental sustainability and social fairness goals.
Examples of localism are:
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