Localizing economies

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By Tinky Ningombam

Shortage of amenities is not a new phenomenon in a poor state like Manipur. However the self-induced shortage of food and amenities (e.g. Imported food items Fish or Salt which are not locally produced) that we have seen in the recent past is also concerning. When a society becomes increasingly dependent on outside economies to sustain their daily life, problems like these, will not be singular cases.

Globalization has brought in its pluses but it has also made many a local economy crumble. What we need to find is a balance. In that perspective, what we need to ask is how we are looking at localization the economy. Because as we open up our doors to multi-national corporations, we need to understand how sustainable our local economies are still going to be. How do we promote our local cultures, sustain our food chains and sustain environmentally friendly businesses? And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Locally accountable businesses in energy, food or manufacturing sectors is something that we are still lacking behind. For example, there will be soon a time when a basic produce such as local fish has to be bred in a far-off land and sourced for consumption, spending more money in transport and retail when it can be much cheaper locally produced.

Development is a two edged sword. And we know that for ages, the human race has been concerned with development. Development or progress has meant different things for different economies however one thing seemed to have been synonymous and that is GDP growth. Wikipedia’s definition: “Gross domestic product (GDP) is the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a year, or over a given period of time. GDP per capita is often used as an indicator of a country’s material standard of living.”

To have a good standard of living, we need to have a sustainable economy that is not entirely dependent on global conglomerates.

In the same light, we should look at Bhutan, a considerably poor nation that focuses on strategic trade relations. The current focus on this small haven, led by India’s first prime ministerial visit. Bhutan follows an interesting philosophy for development. It emphasises in trying to keep a balance of their material and immaterial aspects of life. Their nation’s well-being is not measured by GDP growth but with the growth of GNH – Gross National Happiness.

GNH was propounded by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan in the early 1970s. Because he believed that the measurement of development with GDP does not focus on the one thing that brings up the standard of living- Happiness. As the GNH website quotes “The concept of Gross National Happiness consists of four pillars: Fair socio-economic development (better education and health), conservation and promotion of a vibrant culture, environmental protection and good governance.”

With this outlook, their political and traded policies have to consider whether they will hog for profit at the expense of for instance, their cultural integrity or their environmental considerations. Hence Bhutan’s choice to  remain carbon neutral or its rejection of McDonald’s for public health concerns or for enforcing 80% forest cover in the land are steps to achieve a higher GNH. I am sure there can be loopholes in something so grandiose. However, this is an innovative step. One that is novel yet ambitious step to sustain an economy with foresight and vision.

One thing that our State needs to learn from. Because unlike our grim past, where we have relied on short-sighted reliefs, we need to focus on a sustainable and happy future. The idea then is not just to build developed cities where people can migrate for better lives but ethically “develop” the entire land so that there is no need for people to move to attain a higher standard of living. Hence, strong local economies might just be the answer for some of our long-standing problems.

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