ABSTRACT

Introduction A key feature of this text is that it unpacks the way neoliberal or free trade policies have been applied to agriculture and, in turn, living in country Australia over the past 40 years. Chapter 18 contains an overview of these changes and initiatives. This book sets out not just to lay before the reader the many impacts of this change process, but also to open up a new way forward. This process started in Chapter 18, which explores the issues of a governmental approach to change. This chapter focuses on responses that can be initiated from a community perspective. But before outlining the capacity for progress on these issues we must first identify the heart of the problem – our concern with the intensification of globalised free trade and what this means for the continued viability of country living. At the heart of this concern is that the changing way in which globalising enterprises operate increasingly constrains, at a local level, opportunities for everyday families and small businesses to maintain their livelihoods and communities. Much of the angst underpinning change in country settings centres on the extent to which cultures and community can be maintained. For Chris Hedges (2010; noting the work of Polyani) – unfettered capitalism results in the death of society. And so, this question of balancing the interface of economy and society is at the heart of this project. We revisit the question of what is the purpose of economy, if it is not to support peoples’ livelihoods? This is the issue that we need to unpack somewhat before proceeding with the remainder of this closing chapter. Free trade policies were designed to optimise the capacity for industry to maximise their return on investment, based on the philosophy of ‘buy low, sell high’, within a context of increasing globalised markets (Carr and Kefalas 2009). With the gradual removal of tariffs, producers who could conduct their businesses on a global scale were positioned to benefit. They were able to shift productive processes to places where they could cheaply access the factors of production (land, labour and capital), while being able to sell their products back into western markets at or near the usual price. Patel’s (2007) study of coffee sales is a case in point. Yet as Carr and Kefalas have made evident, these kinds of policies were always going to be socially problematic, particularly for small

family producers. They set in play a whole new agrarian revolution, on a global scale, displacing many family based producers and their families, while impoverishing many others. Central to this change process has been the disembedding of localised labour relations from the economic base and the subsequent decoupling of established communities from the local, and in turn global, economy (Bligh 2006). A new form of social relations resulted – a set of relations that conflates community identity and well-being with the success of global markets. This new form of social relations has installed the price mechanism as the primary policy instrument for organising the economy. This is serving to restructure the nature of relations between business, labour and the state (Bligh 2006) with the enterprise becoming the true subject of government (Foucault 2008). Crudely installing price as the organising principle of the market, to the benefit of the enterprising subject, has also resulted in the social body and its governance being increasingly organised ‘according to the rules of the economy’ (Foucault 2008, p. 242). The emergence of free markets, the privileging of the globally oriented enterprising subject, and the devolution of both the means for community livelihoods and social protections, have had significant effects. It is not only country communities and regions that find themselves in a vulnerable position – whole aspects of our economies are increasingly constrained in their capacity to progress their economic development (Markusen 2007). The demise of manufacturing in westernised countries is a case in point. Australia has recently witnessed the loss of iconic producers of cars and white goods to socalled cheaper overseas countries, along with aircraft maintenance for our national carrier, all in the name of greater efficiency. The self-evident rationality of the logic of efficiency is put forward as though there were no local down sides to globalising processes. Developments in transport, information and communications technologies further accelerate these processes of change. These latter developments create radically different conceptions of the relationship between space and time, further weakening the link between locality, economy and community. The issue here is not that one means of production has yielded to another. Some would argue that this is part of the natural progression for a society. The scale and social impact of this change process is the issue here, considering that not only agriculture but also manufacturing, business services, banking and increasingly medical services, are all following the same path. While automatic telling and online access did not mean the end of employment in banking, it certainly changed the nature of banking and the size of banks. Mechanising farming has not resulted in the end of food production, or consumption. However, changes in banking, education, governance, health care and agriculture are all central to the demise of rural living, as they underpin the basics of localised economies (Hogan et al. 2013). The combined impact of such change manifests itself in the loss of jobs and subsequent loss of local spending, resulting in many inland settlements, in their current form, being no longer socio-economically viable. Unlike cities, the play of the economic hand is quite manifest in country centres – one’s expenditure is literally the other person’s income. In the

country setting one can more readily see the broader social consequences of spending patterns, whereas in cities, they are masked in anonymity. In the city, if a shop closes, another trader soon seems to take its place. In the country, a shop closes and it tends to stay empty. However, unlike many urban settings, in country settings it is most likely that you personally know the people affected. At the same time, communities have witnessed the concurrent devolution of the role of the state to dispersed individual actors. Notions of localism proliferate. Workers, who would have once turned to the state for support and the protection of their livelihoods, are dislocated from the market (Bligh 2006). In the era of localised self-sufficiency, the state is increasingly shifting the responsibility for well-being onto individuals (Hogan and Lockie 2013). Writers such as Hedges (2010) foresee the death of the middle classes. New forms of social dominance will replace the benefits of several hundred years of enlightenment and the devolution of slavery, serfdom, classes and monarchical rule. But, in this case, the increasingly powerful but relatively small ruling classes have no responsibility for those who are unable to provide for themselves. Just as the last agrarian revolution was closely associated with significant social, environmental, industrial and economic change, so too is this one. The last such change process was associated with significant transactional costs to those that it marginalised. There are significant socio-economic transactional costs associated with this change process; the global phenomenon of farmer suicide is just one (Hogan et al. 2012). One can question whether society is any better at managing processes of change now than we were several hundred years ago. Namely, that the costs of change are allowed to lay where they fall (Titmuss 2006) and that the process of change is set up to benefit the few at the cost of the many. In its initial stages this process was evident in the increasing differences between the very rich and the very poor, while the middle and upper middle across the world enjoyed increasing living standards. Notwithstanding that this is an issue in itself, concerns continue to be expressed that it is not just rural communities but also the middle classes that are now being hollowed out of the social equation. Our analysis of 40 years of rural and regional policy makes it evident that there is a long term policy in place, irrespective of whether it has been declared or not (Stoker 2012), and this is a policy that in its implementation provides for the depopulating of the rural or country space. The key issue on the table then is this – country people wish to continue to live in country places (see Chapter 18). The question in response to this demand within a democratic context, is what can be done to enable such a vision for living to be realised? There are a range of policy strategies at play that may ensure the viability of country settlements. We are going to look at these settings and consider why we cannot deploy such strategies simplistically, particularly when considering the issue of spatiality. We need to do this because we constantly see advocates taking up specific policy agendas without thinking through the consequences they may have for the situation of interest. We will then move on from being grumbly sociologists to identifying other ways of progressing the socioeconomic viability of country settlements.