A recent article by Stuart Staniford on The Oil Drum makes two arguments: first, that industrial societies cannot evolve toward a pre-industrial state, and second, that peak oil will be good for agribusiness. Therefore, he concludes, efforts to re-localize food production are misguided. Sharon Astyk then published this rejoinder in which she critiques Staniford's coning of the term "reversalism" to describe what he sees as a fallacy perpetuated by those who speak in favor of relocalizing agricultural production. Stuart's article has pretty pictures, while Sharon's has a pleasant prose style. They are both quite long, while this post (you should be happy to learn) is quite short.
Now, we should concede Stuart's point about reversibility: complex societies have demonstrated minimal ability to evolve toward a lower level of complexity at a lower level of resource expenditure. Instead, they collapse. Jarred Diamond's book, Collapse, is full of examples of that. So, it will be a different society (or, more accurately, different societies) than this one that will be growing most of its food locally. Activists who advocate relocalization should feel free to gloss over this difference, of course, when speaking to groups of people who wish to survive social and economic collapse, or, for that matter, who just want to eat tasty food that they've grown themselves. The results of their efforts within the scope of this society are likely to be quite circumscribed, because most behaviors that will be adaptive after the collapse (such as growing your own food) would often be maladaptive under current economic conditions. I argue a similar point in this article on the feasibility of promoting sail-based transportation.
And this takes us to Stuart's second point. He argues that Peak Oil will cause high energy prices, which will cause high food prices, which will mean huge profits for agribusinesses, so forget about relocalization. He is assuming implicitly that there will be enough energy to keep the system going, but it will just be a bit more expensive. He writes:
Clearly, farmers making money like that will not be selling out to hordes of the urban poor trying to go back to the land, nor will they need to employ them. Instead, the farmers will simply outbid the urban poor for the energy required to operate the farms...
I agree completely, but why focus just on the urban poor? Why not throw in the suburban poor as well - all of those hapless suburbanites currently being foreclosed out of their suddenly worthless "little cabins in the woods"? Then again, why not throw in everyone else? These ever-higher food and energy prices, coupled with rising unemployment and stagnant wages, is inflation, and it will make most Americans poor. Supposing them to be politically powerless, they would be relatively easy to "simply outbid." But, in their distress, they will probably pose an ever larger security problem, requiring an ever more invasive police state and an ever-larger prison-industrial complex to keep them down.
Now, let's look at it from the point of view of the rich farmers, who will be about the only ones left with the wherewithal to pay the high taxes needed to support the police state and the prisons. Wouldn't it be cheaper for them to just dole out bits of land and let people grow their own food, should they be so inclined?