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  • Localization: The Economics of Happiness
  • Helena Norberg-Hodge (bio)

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Becky White (

The Occupy movement has transformed our political culture in profound ways. New forms of struggle seem possible now that thousands have braved winter chill, rubber bullets, and pepper spray to voice their dissent. And the struggle has gained newfound public legitimacy: according to polls, a majority of Americans remain firm in their support for the issues Occupy has brought to the fore.

With this widespread support, there is now a rare opportunity to promote fundamental change toward a better economic future. The Occupy movement has managed to highlight the social and environmental effects of corporate rule. It is now time to examine how transnational corporations and banks have become so powerful and how they have been able to capture our governments.

For the past thirty-five years, I have worked with economists, environmentalists, and social activists to study the impact of trade agreements around the world. It has become clear to us that “economic globalization”—the deregulation of trade and finance—has led to a rapid and unprecedented expansion in the power and influence of transnational corporations. In the name of freedom and free trade, constraints on global businesses and banks have been removed, creating an interlinked global empire that has turned our elected representatives into corporate servants. From Sweden to Slovenia, from the United States to South Africa, the picture is frighteningly similar. During election campaigns, political representatives from left to right speak our language; once in power, they implement policies that serve the needs of global capital, rather than the needs of the people.

Until quite recently, trade deregulation was a subject that lay beneath most of the public’s radar. Today, however, even market fundamentalists have had to concede that the deregulation of trade and finance led to increasingly reckless speculation and ultimately to a near meltdown of the global financial system. I’m very hopeful that people will soon recognize that deregulation— the core of economic and corporate globalization—is also the single biggest contributor to most of the other major crises of our time, from unemployment to climate change, ethnic conflict to the epidemic of depression.

For decades, deregulation in the name of globalization was presented as a way of bringing the people of the world [End Page 29] together. It was seen as the only way toward progress and as an almost evolutionary process. Bill Clinton, one of the foremost promoters of trade deregulation in the 1990s, said, “Globalization is not something we can hold off or turn off.… It is the economic equivalent of a force of nature.” Yet, over the years, more and more people have realized that this is simply not true. The global economy is structured the way it is because of policy choices. In thrall to outdated economic theory, governments are making massive investments in trade-based infrastructures, signing onto trade treaties that open their economies to outside investment, and scrapping laws and regulations designed to protect national and local businesses, jobs, and resources. In the process, national sovereignty has been relinquished to giant transnational corporations and undemocratic supranational bodies like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Bank of International Settlements (BIS).

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Trade deregulation has let transnational corporations run wild. Community gardens and farmers markets offer a glimpse of an alternative system. Will Occupy open new paths to economic localization?

Creative Commons/wirralwater

Support for international trade has given global players an unfair advantage over local producers and businesses. Long-distance transport networks, for example, make it possible for huge agribusinesses and corporate marketers to deliver their products worldwide, helping them absorb the markets of businesses selling locally-produced goods. Publicly funded global communications networks are of little use to the local family farmer or the local bank, but they enable transnational corporations to wield centralized control over their widely dispersed activities and to transfer capital around the world at the stroke of a computer key. The result of these policies has been an explosive growth in international trade of both goods and toxic debt. Whole economies are becoming...