Local Self Sufficiency

Based on ENL's approach to trade, those who favor local self-sufficiency are correct in some cases, but not in others.

Trade is justified if three conditions are met: regional scope is deemed to be ethically acceptable, local health is increased more from an import than from other allocation options, and ecological limits are not violated in producing the export.

Unfortunately it is largely unknown to what degree today's trade meets the last two conditions. If all the facts were available it might turn out that the supporters of self-sufficient economies are overwhelmingly right even today.

Whatever the current situation actually is, supporters of local economies will likely have an increasingly powerful case as resource scarcities take hold and ecological decline deepens.

The rationality of trade depends heavily on the export's input cost. But the input cost of transportation will likely rise significantly in the future as resource constraints necessitate more difficult and more disruptive extraction efforts. This will increase pollution and habitat destruction, hence natural cost.

Similar considerations apply to labor cost. Sooner or later the input cost associated with exports will exceed the effectual value of imports, and trade will no longer make sense — irrespective of allocation alternatives.1

Shipping illustrates the point with respect to natural cost. About 90% of the world's trade is currently transported by ships. The extraordinary pollution they emit has been revealed in several European studies.

Despite the frequent focus on airplane pollution, it turns out that the world's fleet of approximately 70,000 ships causes 4-5% of the world's CO2 emissions. The figure for the airline industry is about half that. There are currently 20,000 ships on order, and the fleet's emissions could rise by 75% over the next 15-20 years.2

If analysis determines that the climate can withstand only 10,000 ships even at sharply reduced emission levels, global trade will have to be severely curtailed, and the supporters of local economies will have their intuitions substantially confirmed.

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