The Blog

Why Thinking Too Small Increases Your Food Bill

Albert Einstein famously said "We won't solve present problems with the same thinking that created them", so reminding us that it's the inadequate way weabout our problems that always explains our inability to solve them.

Albert Einstein famously said "We won't solve present problems with the same thinking that created them", so reminding us that it's the inadequate way we think about our problems that always explains our inability to solve them.

The same goes for rising food costs resulting from the effects of global warming. Farmers who are caught between extreme weather and the supermarkets' reluctance to pay higher prices will demand a European solution - more subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy to help them through. Consumers will demand a national solution - that the government should somehow help them through. But are national or even European solutions enough? Are we thinking big enough? Global warming is, after all, a global problem.

For farmers, a European solution is proving no solution at all. As the Financial Times reported , "the NFU is calling on European politicians not to cut subsidies to farmers. Discussions on the Common Agricultural Policy are ongoing, but many expect the straitened nature of European finances to result in reduced government support." For consumers, likewise, does anyone seriously believe the government will help?

What's becoming clear is that many of our increasing daily hardships actually stem from global causes which can only be solved with global solutions. Thinking too small - about local, national or even European solutions - simply won't do.

And it's not as if rising food bills are the only effect of our failure to think globally. Whether it's the financial crisis, austerity, corporate abuses, the Euro crisis or too-big-to-fail banks, most of the problems we face today are global and can only be effectively dealt with at the global level. Why is it, then, that we still cling so doggedly to the hope that national or even European solutions can help us?

One good reason is that global solutions are far easier said than done. But the deeper truth is that we're still in deep denial about our predicament. We still deeply trust that, somehow, our governments can and will protect us. But whether it's the inability of governments to stabilise the Euro or their failure to collect fair levels of tax from multinational corporations, the mounting evidence to the contrary shows that we're in for a rude awakening. For in today's globalised world anything that moves freely across national borders - like the commercial banks, global investors, multinational corporations, organised crime, the non-doms or the rich - runs rings around governments, playing one off against the other to their endless advantage. Meanwhile, because of their rootedness within national borders, it's ordinary people who inevitably end up paying the price. Against these forces, governments, being nationally rooted too, have all the effectiveness of a chocolate fireguard.

Our denial is even more understandable if we realise just how invested we are in the idea of the nation-state; in the idea that our government is all-powerful and able to help and protect us. After all, that's what we've been brought up to believe. And in former times it was true. But sooner or later, we're going to have to realise that in a globalised world, national or even European solutions are too small; that thinking too small is costing us dear.

Today, talk of global-level solutions or of global governance is usually greeted with laughter, suspicion or disbelief. But that's all part of our denial; all part of our need, despite all the evidence, to cling to our out-dated nation-centric way of thinking. Moving to a new level of thinking is scary and difficult, because the way we currently think is a deep-felt part of who we are. So when confronted with evidence to the contrary, we automatically reject it because letting go of our way of thinking feels too threatening; so we dismiss the evidence, we laugh at it, or we switch off. When it comes to global governance or global co-operation, then, that's exactly what we're doing. We're in denial.

Looking back to recent history, we could perhaps say that the underlying lesson of the Cold War was that free markets are the best way to run an economy. The underlying lesson of globalisation, conversely, is likely to be that governance has to be on the same scale as the economy it's trying to govern. A global market, in other words, cannot possibly deliver justice, prosperity or sustainability without global governance. Pretty obvious, really.

Laugh or switch off if you want. But next time your food bill goes up, or the local river floods your house, think about it.