In the wake of the horrific flooding in Iowa and the Midwest commodities traders are predicting a sharp increase in food prices across the nation. The floods, made worse by collapsed levees, devastated millions of acres of crops in an already shortened growing season but that is not the main reason for food price increases. Fast becoming known as the worst infrastructure failure in the history of the nation, the massive flooding highlights a disintegrating infrastructure across the nation. The American Society of Civil Engineers rates our national infrastructure as ‘barely passable’, akin to third world under developed countries.

Without healthy infrastructure, roads, bridges, electrical transmission, long distance commerce, including the distribution of centralized food production, is not possible. Consequently a government’s investment or lack of investment in infrastructure can play an important role in local economies. Locally, the railroad closure, a result of poor maintenance, has impacted coastal industry, as one example.

One consequence of being in the energy business and fielding inquiries from all over the world I am being taught facets of global economics such as trade liberalization or ‘free trade’ and the impact upon developing countries. Additionally, I have looked heavily into the privatization of essential services and the further deregulation of those services and how it affects economic health in poor areas.

Trade, or more accurately, free trade is touted as creating jobs but it is exporting that creates jobs while importing eliminates them. A healthy economy, one with full employment requires careful management of trade balances and may require that we severely restrict imports to retain dollars and shore up the local economy.

Soaring gas prices and catastrophic events like Katrina and the Iowa floods is forcing communities to reevaluate their market structures, conservation methods and energy policies. The biggest imports in a centralized market system are food, fuel and electricity. Reducing our dependence on these imports, buying local foods, driving less and producing our own energy will significantly improve our economy and our negotiating strength in attracting new industry.

When a worker loses a job at a local mill, whether it is due to outside competition or technological changes, gone also are health insurance and retirement benefits. Gone are earnings to put back into the local economy and gone is the tax base to maintain an infrastructure necessary to rebuild an economy. Developing countries are caught in precisely the same quandary as we find ourselves in here, although it is worsened in some countries because they may not have the technological know how we possess.

Presently, we have the materials and know how to build, from scratch if we had to, CHP (combined heat and power) generators. CHP generators can be fueled with the clean wood waste covering our logging areas and the carbon sequestered that can power small neighborhoods or microgrids. Naturally, I must mention that we will soon be building and producing wind generators, the V-LIM, here on the coast as another way to produce local energy and reduce imports.

Food can be grown locally and supplied to individuals, restaurants and grocery stores. One of the best investments for our tax dollars would be a public transportation system. These changes will ultimately be forced upon us by circumstances beyond our control or we can start to adopt them now, on our own terms. As a once independent nation, to leave ourselves at the mercy of market forces, intellectual property treaties, deregulated privatization and bilateral trade agreements, in other words, to allow circumstances to choose for us, just seems un-American.