Tuesday, May 19, 2009
On "Buy Local"
(crosspost from the comments to Distributist Review.) I think the issues around globalism are complex. For instance, when you say "Buy local," what do you mean? Do you mean culturally local, geographically local, or "energetically" local (as in, it does not require much expenditure of energy to move the good from the provider to the consumer). I am pretty sure a definition of local based on cultural similarity is exactly what people mean when they say Buy American is a chauvinistic movement - its subtext (albeit barely sub) is "Americans deserve to have jobs more than people in another society". The idea that one person deserves a living and another does not depending on whether they are of a particular culture is obviously amoral. I think most moralists agree that the culture one incidentally belongs to ought not to prevent you from working and living. If this is the case, then saying it is geographic locality which matters (and cultural locality is just a coincidence due to the fact that people with similar culture tend to live near one another) then we are in the position of making an even more ridiculous moral statement: that people deserve to work based on whether they live near you or not. This is even more coincidental than the culture to which one belongs. By local we must therefore mean energetically local - that is, that it does not require very much energy to transport the good from the producer to the consumer. This definition, however, must depend on the state of technology surrounding the economic transaction. If we invented teleporters powered by solar energy, for instance, then everyone would be local to you. Intellectual trade has already reached this point - no one talks of "supporting local bloggers" because the blog is an essentially free to move object. One consequence of accepting this view is that if technological changes, such as the invention of fossil fuel powered vehicles and ships, occur, then the notion of energetically local will necessarily change. This is quite arguably the cause of the phenomenon of globalization in the last two centuries. It seems to me that if someone in Bangalore makes something which is expensive or impossible to make here in North Carolina and we make something else that they want (even if that thing is just capital) then it makes more sense, both morally and practically, to buy from the people in Bangalore. They, after all, need to make a living just like anyone else, and their local circumstances might not allow for them to diversify their production sufficiently to support a good quality of life if they were restricted to local trade. It seems like what you really object to is the people in North Carolina (for instance) "producing" nothing but capital. But we both agree that this is (in the long term) impossible. In any case, it is a separate problem if North Carolinians are not actually producing valuable commodities. One not really addressable by merely buying local (except that doing so artificially constrains us). Shouldn't we be more concerned about making sure our investments are sound in the long term and that our transactions are moral and forget about geography or culture altogether when making economic decisions?