Localism vs. Populism: Global Movements Against Centralization (Episode 92)

Date: 20 Feb 2020 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In this episode of Building Local Power, Christopher Mitchell sits down with ILSR Senior Fellow David Morris for a discussion around the idea that Brexit was driven by people’s growing frustration with centralized power in Brussels, and the fact that President Trump is often labeled a populist. Looking at populist movements in the past and present, Christopher and David consider whether or not these movements are tied to concerns about centralized control. Their wide-ranging conversation also touches on:

  • What it means to have local accountability in government.
  • How states have moved to limit the authority of cities and counties in an increasing number of areas over the last 10 years.
  • The motivations behind modern populist movements, and the difference between populism and localism.


“If you think of corporations, in terms of their sales, as equivalent to the gross domestic product of nations, more than 50% of the top 100 corporations are larger than the average nation in the world… Even nations are having trouble exercising autonomy because of the concentration of economic power.”


The Breakdown of Nations by Leopold Kohr

The Growing Shadow of State Interference by the Local Solutions Support Center

The Third Pillar by Raghuram Rajan

Jessica Del Fiacco: Welcome to the Building Local Power podcast. I’m Jessica Del Fiacco, the communications manager here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today’s episode features a conversation between Chris Mitchell and David Morris and they get into a discussion about populist movements around the world and how those movements may or may not be connected to a trend away from centralized control and towards local control. So, Chris is here to give us a little preview of that conversation.
Chris Mitchell: Yeah. The first thing I’d actually say is that I think to some extent, and David talks about this, I mean this is really more about me trying to figure out what’s going on in the world by asking David on a podcast what’s happening. But I think he would take issue with that all of these movements are populist and I kind of threw some different ones at him. Some we talk a little bit about secession movements and I think it’s really about the world feels like it’s in a different state. And I feel like a lot of us are trying to figure out how to organize that in our brains. And so, David and I go on a meandering conversation through this that I think touches on a lot of different areas that are valuable. And I found it to be a very interesting conversation.
Jessica Del Fiacco: Yeah, I mean definitely, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into when I started listening to it. But there’s certainly a lot of questions about what’s brewing, what created our current political scene in the US? What were the motivations behind Brexit? And you guys touch on a lot of different pieces there and connect some of the dots especially and then kind of tie it back into our work here at ILSR, what are we talking about when we talk about local solutions and how that differs from a lot of the roots of some of these movements.
Chris Mitchell: And like a good book, by my definition, there was no answer at the end. I don’t want people though to be listening and thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait to see how this all wraps up.” And I would say it kind of trails off. This is more about, I think trying to figure out what are the right questions to ask and what are things that we should be paying attention to and thinking about? Because frankly I would like to be able to say that we can neatly point to all of these different movements and things and say this is a sign that people fundamentally reject centralized control and they want more control over their daily lives and they want to take responsibility for it. And this is the way that we can move forward and solve all the world’s problems. And that’s a piece of it. But there’s a lot of pieces.
Jessica Del Fiacco: Okay. So with that, let’s get into you and David’s a long and insightful discussion.
Chris Mitchell: Not too long. I mean, it’s… How long is it?
Jessica Del Fiacco: We’re less than an hour. It’s okay folks.
Chris Mitchell: Less than an hour. I thought it was more than a half hour, which is, I had a really fun time talking to David about this and I hope other people find some value in it. Welcome to another episode of Building Local Power. And I want to start in a nice calm way because sometimes it feels like the world is burning down around us, and I think that it feels that way because the world is burning down around us. So, this is Chris Mitchell, the person who runs the Broadband Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. And I’m talking to one of my favorite people in the whole world, David Morris, who’s been not on this show for a whole two weeks, I guess, four weeks, two episodes. So, welcome back David.
David Morris: Well, thank you very much. And people who are listening should know that at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we call Chris Mitchell the fireman.
Chris Mitchell: Right. Sometimes I’m setting the fires, sometimes I’m putting them out. It all depends on the issue. David, you just were on two week… I keep saying two weeks ago, but David you were just on a recent episode talking about micromobility and I enjoyed that conversation with John Farrell. I hope people listen to it. Today I want to pick your brain on something totally different. And that is, there’s a premise that I sent you and we’re going to be talking about this and it has to do with global trends, often labeled populism, but this general movement that I would say I have some concerns about, and I’m trying to figure out if there’s also some hope in it.
Chris Mitchell: And so, let me say this, whether it’s Donald Trump in the United States, Brexit or other similar European trends and conflict or still other movements across the globe, a lot of people are calling this the reaction against the elites, maybe a new generation of populism. And I’m curious, is that accurate or should we be thinking about this as more as a reaction against too much centralized control and a movement that for both better and for worse is really supportive local control?
David Morris: Right. Well, I think that there are two responses to that. One is that it is a reaction to elites in some ways, but it is not a revolt against central control. I mean, in fact, in the case of Donald Trump he is amassing centralized control in a way unprecedented in American history. And people seem to like that, or at least 50% of the country does at this point. So, there was not a populist movement against the federal government exercising enormous power. There may be a movement about how it exercises that power but, for example Donald Trump deciding to preempt the authority of States to allow drilling offshore in those States, which certainly not be popular by the people in those states.
David Morris: And similarly in Europe, you don’t find internal, the populist movements internally that is in Poland or Hungary or the like, or even in great Britain. Internally, they don’t seem to be a reaction to elites except probably in Great Britain they might be. Because in Great Britain, it’s essentially England versus London. And then there’s Scotland and Ireland and so forth. And so, people when they think about Brexit, it was not Great Britain that I wanted to get out from the European Union. It was England that I wanted to get out from the European Union. Scotland, it certainly did not want to. Northern Ireland was not really interested in that. So, we do need to think about this in terms of elites, in terms of centralized authority.
Chris Mitchell: So, let me just make sure I got this in a sense. So, there’s a couple of things that you responded with that are important. And the first one I think is that this isn’t really a reaction against elites and I want to… We’ll set that aside and not talk about it much I think, because I agree with you. And that’s actually worth noting that a fair number of Donald Trump’s supporters are elites. And I don’t know enough about some of the other movements that you were talking about. So, let’s set aside elites. Now, the issue with centralized control, I do feel like there’s a number of people who are embracing the language that Donald Trump used in terms of the swamp and in terms of things that I associate with centralized control. And that these are people who often aren’t paying super close attention, that he is proposing much more centralized control. And I don’t know if that’s different from Huey Long and others. But is there a tendency in populism to be against centralized control with these nuances?
David Morris: Yes. It depends on what you mean by centralized, but yes, absolutely. Although the populist movement of the late 19th century was against, in terms of agriculture, it was against Minneapolis banks essentially and Minneapolis grain companies. So, it was a long distance control by forces that you really were weak against. And the solution to that by the populace was either state ownership but not federal ownership. State ownership within their states, which were relatively rural and sparsely populated at the time. But also cooperative ownership, that is, production facilities would either be public or they would be a cooperatively owned. And that was the strategy for much if not to all of the populace movement, at least that movement that was rural.
Chris Mitchell: Those solutions that you’re noting, those have local accountability elements. So, that’s sort of what I was hoping to get at. And then the other thing I wanted to clarify is that, you mentioned England versus London and the dynamic there as I understand, is one that once not unlike in the United States, we see people who are not in the major metropolitan areas who are kind of revolting. And in this case it seems like they are revolting against a couple of specific issues represented by… They feel that that European bureaucrats have too much control over their things that they view as important to them.
David Morris: Well, in the case of England versus London, it’s not the European bureaucrats, it’s London itself. And it’s the financial center or one of the two financial centers in Europe. England is also one of the major tax shelters in the world, and the real estate prices have gone berserk because it’s also the place that Russia oligarchs and Chinese billionaires park their money. And none of that has anything to do with the European Union. In fact, as they withdraw from the European Union, a key issue is going to be what Europe does vis-a-vis London as a financial center. It could cut it off at its knees, couldn’t eliminate it, but it could certainly make it a second rate financial center. It was a different dynamic than a revolt against Europe and I think it’d be useful for people to kind of get a sense of this thing called Europe, and a little bit of its history. I’m not going back 2000 years.
David Morris: But Europe started with the six countries in 1957. And then it began to evolve. And as it evolved, it began to create rules, and it began to create a bureaucracy, and the excession, that’s the term they use into the European Union or the European community was done in most places by a referendum. It didn’t have to be, it wasn’t required, but most countries did have a referendum. And some of them rejected it. And so, it was a democratic process for excession. And in terms of a new country coming in or any major decision being made, very significant decision being made by Europe, one country had veto power. And in 1992, the European Union adopted a treaty, which essentially expanded the ability for there to be a majority voting. That is, it did not have to be unanimous voting.
David Morris: Both France and Denmark rejected that and that treaty was not ratified because at that time it did require unanimity for it to go forward. And so, that was… I want to come back to that in a minute, but that was a key sort of turning point if you will in the relationship between Europe and the individual countries. And for people who want to know a little bit more about American history, we should know that America, at least the American constitution was founded illegally. I mean, it was founded as a coup to tie, because the Articles of Confederation, which was our original constitution said it could not be changed without a unanimous vote.
David Morris: And the constitutional, the people who wrote the constitution just simply said, “Well, we don’t need a unanimous vote.” And in fact, it was not an unanimous vote for all the states but it was ratified. And it went into effect. The arguments about that… And by the way, this was an argument about it by men, by whites and by those who held property. But it was a vigorous argument as to whether one wanted to give up control. And at that point they were talking about a very modest amount of control, but whether you wanted to give up any control to a federal government. So, 1789 or 1787 in the United States and 1992 in Europe were somewhat similar, if you will, about a fundamental change in governance as to undermine an individual country or in our case, an individual state from actually having a autonomy.
Chris Mitchell: Well, I think that that gets us back nicely to there are sorts of a couple of interesting points. One of which is I think none of this is new. And it certainly wasn’t the first time we saw a group of people just deciding that the rules were wrong and they would just arbitrarily change them for better and for worse, which I think will be a theme here as we discuss this. But I think there’s this question that I want to get back to. And I think it’s where I’d cut you off a few minutes ago when I was clarifying a couple of things. And that is, are we seeing a movement for more local accountability, less kind of control from those people?
David Morris: I will. I think that the way that we are. In the United States, we think of it somewhat differently than we would in Europe or than we would within certain regions in the world. So, I mean the United States, when we say local, we mean local, I think we mean cities and maybe regions and maybe states, although they would tend to be small states like Rhode Island when we might use the word local, whereas in Europe and by local you might mean a country in Europe. But Europe at the time that it actually became the European Union in the 1990s, and by the way, that 1992 treaty was, did not go into effect, but they made a whole bunch of amendments and Denmark then ratified it. But it did not do what they were worried about original one doing.
David Morris: But when it went into effect, it did create institutional structures in Europe that created more of a bureaucracy. But, at the same time, it created this new institutional form and we’re trying to get the name correct, but it’s essentially a European Commission of Regions essentially. It was an institution where sub-national units in Europe could have direct participation in decision making structures in Europe. And so, at the same time as they were thinking about essentially allowing for majority vote and overruling state and national autonomy, they were recognizing that there were these movements internal to those countries for autonomy. But just one other point is that if you think about things like the Kurds, for example, they don’t have a country, Palestine doesn’t have a country.
David Morris: The Hugers in China don’t have a country. The Muslims thought they had a country in India but it’s rapidly their rights are being taken away from them dramatically just in the last few months by the Hindu majority. And none of these have to do with populous movements per se. They do have to do with religious-based or ethnic-based movements. So, when you go around the world, you see I think this general theme that there were smaller units that essentially are trying to gain more autonomy. When you then drill down into that, you find that the motivations of that are very different depending on what country you’re looking at or region you’re looking at.
Chris Mitchell: Would you say that this is something that has accelerated? And one of the things that I come back to is there’s this sense which I really hope is well-placed, but I have this nagging feeling maybe misplaced, that it is safer now to be a small country because we are not going to see sudden changes in the map where a country decides to take over another country and that’s going to be accepted. And so, there may be a little bit more… A group that may previously have been content to not be happy, but at least have the security of being part of a larger country may now have be more emboldened to seek their own official country.
David Morris: Yes. I think that, that is true. Since in 1995, there were 60 countries that is recognized nations, if you will, in the world. Today there are 195. And the first wave of those was the decolonization movement. And then the next wave was the breakup of the Soviet Union. And then the division of Yugoslavia. And each one of those were peoples trying to gain more autonomy. But more recently you’ve had people, you’ve had breakups, internal to countries or trying to be. You’ve had South Sudan, for example, that split away. You’ve had the Czech Republic now and Slovakia, two independent countries from an individual country. So, you’re having a different dynamic that’s occurring right now. And the answer to your question in terms of small is, yes absolutely.
David Morris: I mean the Institute for Local Self-Reliance was founded on the basis that bigness is a burden on society. And in some cases is an evil. It contributes to a great deal of negative effects. And new technologies just in the last generation are decentralizing in their impact. That is, the production technologies. And so, now more than any time in history, we can have a high-tech modern society, and also it can be a relatively small number of people. And so, you’re having that yearning for autonomy and it’s the Basque province in… Or they call themselves the best nation actually, and the Spanish constitution calls them nations. A catalogne is considered its own nation. But when Catalan decided that actually wants to be its own nation, the Spanish government went in there and it took it over.
David Morris: Literally, it took it over. And I mean, this is, it’s as if the federal government went into Indiana and took it over with police force and arrested its officials. And that just happened what? A year ago or a little less than a year ago, and some of them are still they’re in jail or they fled to other countries. When it came to the referendum that Scotland had, I guess it was 2015, was it that Scotland had a referendum as to whether to uncouple from Great Britain, from the United Kingdom? And they were given sort of permission to do that by the ruling government in Great Britain. But one of the issues was whether if they did approve that they could then go into the European Union, which they wanted to do, and the European Union said, “Don’t even think about it. We will not entertain that,” because the European Union was worried that if they did that, then Catalonia in Spain would immediately declare its independence and ask for an application to Europe.
David Morris: And Europe would begin to break down into these smaller nations, which I think would’ve been a marvelous idea. But it essentially said to Scotland, “You cannot exceed to the European Union if you uncouple from the United Kingdom.” The irony of course is that two years later, the people of the United Kingdom uncoupled from Europe. So, now someone has to wonder about, so it kind of stayed. It actually voted to stay by a very narrow margin with the United Kingdom. And by staying with them, it means it’s not in the European Union. So, there may very well be a second referendum in Scotland, but this time around the government in England is… And I say England advisedly is saying that it actually does not have the… It won’t allow another referendum.
Chris Mitchell: Well, I think that is going to be interesting to watch because my sense is that people in Scotland are really fed up with a lot of this discussion. But I do want to bring this back to the United States in a minute, but before then I want to ask, there’s a sense so if you let them secede and start their own nation and these other people will, and if you let them do it, then these other people are going to want to do it. And your reaction seems to be great. No problem. Let’s have 10,000 members of the UN maybe. Am I reading that right?
David Morris: I wouldn’t say 10,000, but you’re reading right that I think small nations are better than big nations for a whole bunch of reasons. Back in… There’s a man named Leopold Kohr, K-O-H-R and I strongly recommend anybody interested in this whole topic read him in his classic book is called the Breakdown of Nations. And it was published in 1957 but he was alive and fighting against the idea of a European Union, if it meant a union of large countries. And his feeling was that nation states did not come about because they were more efficient, but because of superior force. In other words, nations were made up of tribes and ethnic groups, some of them quite large. And they did not acquiesce to becoming part of this nation state.
David Morris: Armies went in and forced them to acquiesce. And Leopold Kohr said that if we’re going to in fact have a confederation in Europe, it should be a confederation, not of existing nation states, but of the states that the nations took over, over the previous couple of hundred years. So, yes. I do believe that there should be that breakdown. However, having said that is, you can break down and no matter how you break down, you’re going to end up with some community where there is a minority. And the question is how to protect to that minority? I think in the issue of Kurdistan or what people would like to be Kurdistan, there is no question that there should be a Kurdistan. The geopolitics are immensely challenging, but there is no question. When Pakistan uncoupled from India, there was a whole question about what does one do with the Muslims in India who would then be a minority? And there’s an incredible book really about that and about the situation in 1947 and 1948. So, I don’t want to be pollyannish about this.
David Morris: But I do think that the larger the nation the further away the government is from its people, the more bureaucratic it is and the more it tends to be controlled by corporations. I mentioned how that number of nations has soared since 1945. But at the same time, the concentration of corporate power has also increased dramatically. I mean if were… If you think of corporations in terms of their sales as equivalent to the gross domestic product of nations are more than 50%. Of the top 100 corporations are larger than the average nation in the world. So, they have enormous power. And that’s another important point. I mean, we’re talking about as if you have autonomy you can exercise it. And it turns out that even nations are having trouble in exercising autonomy because of the concentration of economic power and the rules that, that economic power have managed to get nations to introduce and accept that concretize and solidify their power.
Chris Mitchell: David now would actually be a great time for us to just take a very quick break and drink a lot more coffee, do a quick ad break and come back with even more energy.
Jessica Del Fiacco: Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Building Local Power. Now is the part of the podcast where you usually hear something about a mattress company issuing loans for audio books or something like that. But that’s not really how we do it here. Instead, we’re just going to ask you for money. Please consider making a donation to ILSR.
Chris Mitchell: American currency works best.
Jessica Del Fiacco: Ties into our conversation a little bit here.
Chris Mitchell: Yes. Support us in your local currency though, if that’s what you have to do.
Jessica Del Fiacco: Not only does your support underwrite this podcast, but it also helps us produce all the resources and research we make available for free on our website. We’d appreciate it if you take a minute and go to ilsr.org/donate any amount is welcome and sincerely appreciated. That’s ilsr.org/donate.
Chris Mitchell: And now, back to this scintillating interview. Well, there’s so many directions I want to go with this. So, I’m going to discipline myself a little bit here and say that I think from my perspective, our work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is less about whether we have more nations being formed and more about general strategies for making sure that we can solve our problems locally. And so, rather than starting to think about what would happen if Texas decided to break off or things like that, which I think would be an interesting conversation, we have the structures and if we take them for what they are today, let’s just let’s think a little bit more about this issue of people’s reaction to the frustration with centralized control.
David Morris: Okay. I think that, that’s an excellent idea. And I do think that in… That is true. I mean, that is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about how people can exercise autonomy at the level that’s closest to the people affected by that autonomy. And in the United States, we do have a federal system at least statuary, and in fact, there is a great deal of authority that resides in states and a number of states there’s authority that resides in cities. I think that it would be bizarre to think of Northern Indiana uncoupling from Southern Indiana, even though their cultures are dramatically different. So, you talk about Texas and one can talk about California. But essentially I’d say for 75%, maybe 85% of the states in the United States, there’s not a succession as movement internal to those States. There’s a movement for those states or cities or counties within those states to be able to have more autonomy to be able to write rules that affect their lives.
Chris Mitchell: I was just going to make a joke about wait until November. We’ll see a lot more succession movements regardless of who wins. One of the things that I read, there’s a wonderful book that I’ve read half of, classic problem of me not finishing the reading I intend to do before a podcast. It’s called The Third Pillar. And there’s a quote in there, “Well-structured countries decentralize a lot of decisions to local community government.” And I think that’s true. I want that to be true, certainly. But I also feel like that was much more true in the past. And I feel like we’ve seen a hundred year march away from that and toward giving more power to DC or to Brussels. Is that right?
David Morris: I think that, that’s true. I’m not sure that I would say a hundred years, but certainly 75 years. I mean, war tends to do that in countries. And World War Two, World War One was a defining point except that World War One you ended up sort of rewriting countries for next 20 years. So, think of it as World War Two. So, there’s a centralizing impact when the federal government has to. I mean, it is in fact the representative of the nation and especially the armed forces. And so, in the case of war, it centralizes and when the war is over you don’t find that, a decentralize is a great deal after that. But certainly it’s true about that dynamic. Having said that is that by the late 19th century in the United States, it was an accepted judicial principle that states had complete authority over cities and counties.
David Morris: They could eliminate them if they wanted to or they could make any rules that they wanted in terms of the cities or counties within those borders. So, in that sense, you actually are having more authority that has been exercised and in some cases given, delegated to cities and counties in the last 75 years or 100 years than had existed before. And it got to the point where the cities were exercising that authority to such an extent that in the last 10 years, especially since Republicans have taken over state legislatures in many states, they have passed law after law, limiting the ability of cities and counties to regulate in increasing numbers of areas. For example, rural counties don’t like concentrated feedlots.
David Morris: They overwhelm their natural systems. They smell, they create a sickness and disease and headaches within a mile or two of where they are and they try to regulate them. And the many states, I don’t know how many it is now, maybe 15 states, maybe 20 States, have preempted the authority of a county to regulate the feedlot that is the largest source of odors and contamination and pollution within that county. And that was not true 25 years ago. So, you’ve had this dynamic that really has at least given more authority one way or the other to localities in the United States. And when that authority has been exercised, the case of minimum wage, for example, then states have begun to take that away. And that is a key issue or should be a key issue in politics at the state level certainly.
Chris Mitchell: David, as you were saying that I thought it was worth noting to people, we’ve been working with a group called the Local Solutions Support Center. They worked with a progressive organization called the State Innovative Exchange to do a report called the Growing Shadow of State Interference and it documents the numbers of the rise in this preemption of state interference. That’s denying localities the right to do things. So, for people who would like to learn more about what direction that takes, it’s a good resource to go to. But I wanted to ask you, David, one of the things that we often say is that we’d like to see more local control because we think it’s more accountable.
Chris Mitchell: People have a better ability to impact things at that level. And yet I regularly hear from people who say that they think there’s more corruption at the local level and that they are less trusting of devolving decisions down. Now, I think a lot of that has to do with the lack of scrutiny we have, unfortunately. And you’ve had a great history talking about responsibility, not just authority, but that there’s sort of two sides to this coin, but how do you react to this idea that there’s more corruption at the local level and that at least at the national level, there’s so many more eyes looking at it that we can have less corruption there?
David Morris: Well, I don’t think there’s more corruption at the local level. There’s different kinds of corruption at the local level. At the federal level, there’s a whole bunch of things that I would call corruption that are not legally called corruption. And somebody essentially getting a job in a corporation that, that agency regulated I call corruption. But there’s no law against that. They might pass a rule that says you have to wait six months or a year or whatever it turns out to be. But I call that corruption.
David Morris: It’s a different kind of corruption than on the local level where some land developer gives a $10,000 bribe to somebody to change the zoning on a piece of land. But I would not say that it’s that corruption is more rampant at the local level. And what I would say is that at the local level, you get to kick the bums out. Now, one can argue that, “Well, it’s not easy to kick the bums out,” but actually it’s very easy to kick the bums out. Late 19th century maybe not because people with brass knuckles would visit you and there was a whole different government. There was the boss machines and the like, but that’s not true any longer.
Chris Mitchell: What you’re saying is that it’s easy in the sense that you do have to get off of your couch. You have to put down Twitter, you have to knock on your neighbor’s doors. But it is physically possible for a very small group of people to knock on enough doors and have enough conversations to kick the bums out.
David Morris: Yes, absolutely. And so, what one needs is for higher levels of government… I mean, there’s two things that I would have higher levels of government do that do interfere and intervene in communities. One is a requirement for transparency. So, if there’s corruption, you would know there’s corruption. Now, you’re never going to get to the level of complete transparency when someone gives you a bag of cash but on the other hand, there’s lots of ways in which you can know what’s going on. So, that should be a rule that is implemented and enforced by higher levels of government. The second thing that should be done by higher levels of government is that they should enforce the constitution especially the Bill of Rights.
David Morris: They should enforce that because otherwise you have majorities that will tyrannized minorities. And so, I do think that if there’s a human rights issue or civil rights issue that’s going on, that you do have the right and you have the responsibility as a higher level of government to intervene. But if people at the local level are doing things that you don’t like… I mean, let’s take for example, the issue of cities that require public employees that are city employees to live within the city. Now, there have been waves of this, that there was a time 30 years ago where many cities did this now that are relatively few that do it, but that debate should take care at the local level and in most cases, states are preempting it and they’re preempting it for reasons that they don’t like it or the people who are forced to live within the city don’t like it. I get that. I mean, I understand that.
David Morris: And there’s arguments on both ways, both the levels. But what I would say is it’s a decision that should be made at the local level. And if it’s a decision that people don’t like, then at the next election, and there’s also recalls in many places, they make their disapproval felt. And usually when these decisions are made, they’re almost always, they’re made in public. There are public hearings. You might not feel that you’re being listened to, but I assure you that if you go to a city council or for that matter, a zoning commission decision making process, and there’s 300 people that show up at that meeting, you do get heard and you do have a great deal of influence. But you got to get up, and if it’s raining, you got to take your umbrella and you got to go a few blocks or maybe even a half a mile.
Chris Mitchell: It seems to me that a lot of this comes down to. Now, here’s where you’re going to hear the part of me, David, that I know that you love, which is the part that’s heavily influenced by Robert Heinlein, Edward Abbey. The sort of libertarian mindset that so confuses me with all the other tendencies that I have. I feel like I’m Legion of political philosophies. There’s a lot of this comes down to me saying I want to tell those people over there how they should organize their lives. And we see this on the right because the right is in tremendous power right now.
Chris Mitchell: I feel like we would also see it on the left. I think many of us would find it less problematic, but I still think that we see a tendency of people saying, “I want to tell the people who live in that city, that city that I have no intent to live in, I want to tell them how they have to organize their lives.” And to me that seems like the root of a lot of this problem is that we need to get to a point in which we say, “I want to have power to organize my community. And to do that I have to let other communities make decisions that are different from mine as long as…” I think the rules you’ve set out are great transparency, no minorities or majorities terrorizing the other.
David Morris: Yeah. I mean, I think that, that’s absolutely true. There is… You were talking about it with Abby and the like and with the environment it gets to be it’s a trickier issue environment. I mean, let’s say that you live downstream from another city. Should you have any control over what that city dumps into the water supply? And I would argue that yes you should. But I would say that there needs to be some regional authority that you have some direct participation in that tries to establish the rules related to that. And I would also say that, I believe very much in performance standards rather than a prescriptive standards. And for those who don’t know what that means, and I would imagine 99 out of a 100 of you don’t know what that means.
David Morris: If you’re talking about a building code, a prescriptive standards says you have to have three inches of insulation in the walls, six inches of insulation in the ceiling, or you have to have a certain installation value in your walls, your ceilings. A performance standard says you have to have under a certain amount of heat loss from that building depending on what the temperature is outside. And the second thing is one that then allows a great deal of creativity and innovation by architects and by builders. The first one creates bureaucracy and monitoring and paperwork and stifles innovation. So, you need to have a different type of standard. And then the second is that standards should be in most cases, minimums and not maximums.
David Morris: And that tends to be what has occurred in the environmental community, environmental legislation for the most part which is essentially that the federal government says that you have to have an air quality that is X clean. But it can be cleaner. Or the state decides that you need to be 50% renewables or you have to reduce your carbon or whatever by X amount, but you can go further than that if you want to. And so, minimums floors and not ceilings and performance standards rather than a prescriptive standards is one that I would recommend. I would say that, that’s the environment. Now, you have the issue of culture and personal behavior and especially sexual behavior. And that’s one that tends to be the sticking point in the community because the people that you want to regulate in terms of sexual behavior almost always are a minority in the community.
David Morris: And if it’s a community with strong religious principles that they think it relates to the sexual behavior, they will ban that behavior. Sometimes they will jail people who participate in that behavior. And that’s the situation where I think higher levels of government should step in to protect the minority. But the question of whether that minority has any rights is often up to the courts. And so, for example, the Supreme Court has declared that under the freedom of privacy, women have the right to make a decision, well about two things actually. The right to privacy by the way came about because of your right to have access to contraception. It wasn’t about your right to have access to abortion. And then it was extended beyond that but there are Supreme Court justices and there may be a majority right now in the Supreme Court that don’t believe in a right to privacy. And so, then you would not be protected by their interpretation of the Bill of Rights. And then the question is, who if anyone protects you?
Chris Mitchell: Right. And I think it would have been a lot easier David to end without an unveiling of really hard can of worms. But one of the things that I’ve appreciated in working with you all these years, and one of the reasons I’ve been here is that I feel like we’re not going to shy away from those. We’re going to try to deal with those as honestly as we can and not hide that fact. Let me ask you, David, when we see these various movements, is there a kernel that is driving them that’s maybe different than it was before in terms of this desire for more local control? Or am I just seeing that because I want to see that and because I’m so focused on it? Is something different now?
David Morris: Well, I don’t think that any of it has to do with local control. I mean, except as a sort of a cover for what you want to do. So, I don’t see that. I don’t think that Donald Trump is certainly not asking for a local control. The word local, I’m not even sure he knows what that means. And when Poland and Bulgaria talk about more control over their own affairs, they’re talking about vis-a-vis the European Union. And I mean, people may or may not know what’s going on in Poland and Hungary, but Poland essentially abolished an independent judiciary a couple of years ago effectively. And the European Union had to figure out what do you do about this?
David Morris: When one of your members essentially violates a cardinal principle of the European Union and they’re still trying to figure out what to do about that. And the polls would say, “We should have the right to decide how we want to structure our government.” I would disagree with that. But at the same time that’s not a call for localism at all. So, I don’t think so. I think that what drives most of these populist movements, I wouldn’t say all of them, but most of them, when you’re calling about them populous movements, for example, I would not call Scotland’s a populous movement. I would not call Catalan a populous movement. I’m talking about the modern definition of the word popular. They’re almost all about race or religion or ethnic fears.
Chris Mitchell: Or some relation of immigration.
David Morris: Immigration is the key issue for this. It’s a key issue for Donald Trump wants to close the borders and effectively is closing the borders. It was the key issue in Brexit. In fact if you look at the Vote Leave campaign, a fundamental principle of the Vote Leave campaign was that essentially that Turkey was going to become part of the European Union and quickly Albania, Macedonia, Serbia were going to join the European Union and then they would have the right to go to England. Because you have the free flow of population. In India, it’s religious and it’s ethic. It’s Muslims and in Hindus. But that’s what it seems to me is driving populism. These days it can be justified by many things, but that tends to be the fundamental principle. And that’s completely different from the definition of populism and what populism was as movements in the late 19th century.
Chris Mitchell: This has been a fun conversation and I like to think of this as I think some people, in setting up to record an episode of a podcast think, “All right, let’s go from A to B and lets this be orderly.” And I think let’s have a nice stroll and we’ll meander and see where we go like we’re going on a nice hike without a well-defined path and along the way you have wonderful sites and that’s what I hope this accomplished.
David Morris: Well it did. It was helpful to me. And thank you very much. I enjoyed meandering with you, Chris.
Jessica Del Fiacco: Thank you to everyone for tuning in to this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. You can find all the links to what Chris and David discussed today at our website. That’s ilsr.org and clicking on the show page for this episode. While you’re there, you can sign up for one of our many newsletters and connect with us on social media. Finally, you can help us out with a gift that helps produce this very podcast and produce original research on the way monopolies are impacting our economy. Once again, please help us out by rating this podcast and sharing it with your friends on iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts. This show is produced by Lisa Gonzalez, Zach Freed and me Jessica Del Fiacco. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunctionale. For the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I’m Jessica Del Fiacco and I hope you join us again in two weeks for the next episode of Building Local Power.


Like this episode? Please help us reach a wider audience by rating Building Local Power on iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts. And please become a subscriber!  If you missed our previous episodes make sure to bookmark our Building Local Power Podcast Homepage

If you have show ideas or comments, please email us at info@ilsr.org. Also, join the conversation by talking about #BuildingLocalPower on Twitter and Facebook!


Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS


Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Follow the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on Twitter and Facebook and, for monthly updates on our work, sign-up for our ILSR general newsletter.