“Buy Local”

I’ve never understood the “buy local” movement (if you can call it that).

Should I buy only those things that have local origins? Probably not, unless I have a strong preference for near-nudity, walking everywhere, and eating raw meat, wild cherries, and a limited selection of uncooked vegetables. Why raw meat and uncooked vegetables? Well, unless I’m very good at making things like ranges and cooking utensils (out of what?), I won’t have anything to cook on or with. Or maybe I’d be expected to cut down all the trees on my property for a few months’ worth of open fires, which I would start … how, by rubbing sticks together?

Anyway, what’s “local”? Is it the places I can walk to in, say, four hours, so that I have time to walk back home and prepare my meal of raw meat, and so on? It must be, if “buy local” rules out the purchase of a bicycle (not made locally) or a car (not made locally), which requires fuel (not made locally).

Well, let’s say that “buy local” means that I should buy only from local merchants, regardless of the source of the things they sell. Is Sam’s Club a local merchant? I think so. After all, the store sits in Austin, and the people who work there must live in and near Austin.

Oh, but I can’t buy things at Sam’s Club because it’s not a locally owned store. It’s part of a big, nationwide chain of stores — an offshoot of Wal-Mart. And stores like that put “local” merchants out of business. Or is it that wise consumers, who don’t like to ripped off, put “local” merchants out of business by taking their business elsewhere?

The fact that Sam’s Club, etc., are local stores, pay local taxes, and hire local people doesn’t matter, you say? The fact that the lower prices charged by outfits like Sam’s Club are a boon to consumers (many of them low-income consumers) doesn’t matter, you say? We should just suck it up and pay a premium to “local” merchants? Why? So they can sell us the same, mostly non-local stuff at higher prices because their operations are less efficient than those of Sam’s Club and the like? (I love to use Sam’s Club as an example because (a) I shop there and (b) it drives my left-wing acquaintances nuts. They talk as if the employees of Sam’s and Wal-Mart are slaves who have been dragooned into service, unlike the employees of Costco.)

And what about internet retailers like Amazon.com? Are they off-limits, too? Heaven forbid that I should be able to get more for my money, and save a lot of time and trouble, by shopping online. I could spend a lot more time, consume fuel, and wear out tires and brakes by going to a bunch of “local” stores for the same things. If they offer them. And if they do, I’ll probably pay more, to boot.

Perhaps “we” should go back to the “good old days” of the  late 1800s, when most things were purchased locally. (Though not made locally out of locally available materials.) No one had cars to bother with, just dirty, smelly horses and uncomfortable buggies and wagons. Anyway, when cars came along, they weren’t produced locally, so people were just as well off without them.

Wait a minute. The relative lack of mobility of the late 1800s led to the innovation known as catalog shopping. Remember Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Company? If you don’t you ought to look them up. They were the Amazon. com of the day — and for many long years.  Not only that, but they also had “local” stores across the country, as did J.J. Newberry, F.W. Woolworth, and (within a few decades) S.S. Kresge, J.C. Penney, and many others. Then there was A&P, which — despite its later reputation as a third-rate grocery chain — led the way in bringing to American consumers a wider variety of foodstuffs at affordable prices.

I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. If you’re serious about buying “local” — in the strictest sense — you’re doomed to a life of hard labor and rudimentary shelter, clothing, food, entertainment, medical care, and everything else. Plus, there’s all that stuff you’ll never miss, like your iPhone, Facebook, the internet itself, movies, TV, radio, and whatever else passes for amusement these days.

You see, I just don’t know where one is supposed to draw the line when it comes to buying “local.” And once you go beyond that line — wherever it is — have you done something bad? Like enjoying a healthier, better-nourished, better-clothed, better, housed, more richly entertaining life? Like getting more for your money? Like providing employment for local people who don’t happen to work for “local” companies? Like providing employment for people who don’t live locally but are able to make things that can’t be made locally, at all, or as well or as cheaply?

All of this confusion about “buy local” is driving me nuts. Maybe I’ll sue the local chamber of commerce for emotional distress. But I’ll have to hire a lawyer who’s a native of Austin and who got his law degree at UT. Of course, there might be better lawyers who aren’t natives and who got their law degrees in other places. But that’s my tough luck, isn’t it?

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