Society today is faced with a choice between two diverging paths. The path endorsed by government and industryleads towards an ever moreglobalised economy, one inwhich the distance betweenproducers and consumers will continue to grow. The other path is being built from the grassroots, and leads towards strong local economies inwhich producer-consumer links are shortened.
I believe that moving in the latter direction may be one of the best ways of solving a whole range of serious socialand environmental problems, from rising rates of rime and violence to the greenhouse effect. This may sound absurdly simplistic, but it is a conviction based on long-term observations insocieties at very different levels of dependence on the global economy— including heavily-industrialised America, socialist Sweden, rural Spain, and most importantly, Ladakh, a traditional culture on the Tibetan Plateau.
When I first came to Ladakh the Western macro economy had not yet arrived, and the local economy was still rooted in its own soils. Producers and consumers were closely linked in a community-based economy. Twodecades of development in Ladakh,however, have led to a number of fundamental changes, the most important of which is perhaps the factthat people are now dependent on foodand energy from thousands of milesaway. The effects of this increasingdistance between roducers and Globalisation versus Community Helena Norberg-Hodge consumers are worth looking at as we consider our own future.
Globalisation Destroys Local Economies and Communities The path towards globalisation is dependent upon continuous government investments. It requires the building-up of a large-scale industrial infrastructure, including roads, mass communications facilities,energy installations, and schoolsfor specialised education. Among other things, this heavily subsidisedinfrastructure allows goods produced on a large scale and transported long distances to be sold at artificially low prices—in many cases at lower prices than goods produced locally.
In Ladakh, the Indian government is not only subsidising roads, schools and energy installations, but is also bringing in subsidised food from India’s breadbasket, the Punjab. Ladakh’s local economy—which hasprovided enough food for its people for2000 years—is now being invaded by produce from industrial farms located on the other side of the Himalayas. The food arriving in lorries by the tonneis cheaper in the local bazaar than food grown five minutes walk away. For many Ladakhis, it is no longer worthwhile to continue farming. again, because of a heavily subsidised industrial infrastructure. In Ladakh this same process is affecting not just food, but a whole range of goods, from clothes to household utensils to building materials. Imports from distant parts of India can often be produced and distributed at lower prices than goods produced locally— economy is being steadily dismantled, and with it the local community that was once tied together by bonds of interdependence again, because of a heavily subsidised industrial infrastructure. The end result of all this long-distance transport of subsidised goods is that Ladakh’s local economy is being steadily dismantled, and with it the local community that was once tied together by bonds of interdependence.
Globalisation has led to Several Social Problems This trend is exacerbated by other changes that have accompanied economic development. Traditionally, children learned how to farm from relatives and neighbours; now they are put into Western-style schools that prepare them for specialised jobs in an industrial economy. In Ladakh, these jobs are very few and far between. As more and more people are pulled off the land, the number of unemployed Ladakhis competing with each other for these scarce jobs is growing exponentially. What’s more, the course of the economy, once controlled locally, is increasingly dominated by distant market forces and anonymous bureaucracies.