Hypocrites who Moralize Geography

At the convenience store near where I work, there’s a magnet listing ten reasons to “buy local.” I won’t reproduce them here, but it bears pointing out that the appeal to buy local is simply Pecksniffian marketing.

Here’s what I mean: when a farmer tells you to buy local, he wants you to think that you’re keeping your money in the community, thereby benefitting local families. He wants you to think this way, of course, because he wants you to change your behavior so that your dollars flow to his pocketbook.

And what’s wrong with that? Marketing, as such, serves an important function in any functioning economy. After all, if buyers and sellers can’t find each other, transactions can’t take place and wants will go unsatisfied. But in this case, the farmer isn’t just marketing, he’s trying to induce a change in your behavior on what are ostensibly noble grounds.

So, let’s say you do. In order to support your local economy, you purchase all of your produce–at a price premium–from this farmer at the local farmers’ market in, say, rural Illinois. According to the logic presented by the farmer, you, my friend, are nearly a saint. A wide grin breaks across your face, a warm glow fills your breast, and the farmer gives you a wink.

Before you leave, in a fit of neighborliness, you strike up a conversation, asking what kind of tractor the farmer uses.

“New Holland, of course!” the farmer responds proudly. “Only the best for my farm.”

Something niggles at the back of your mind. “But… both John Deere and Caterpillar are headquartered in Illinois. Isn’t New Holland an Italian company?”

“Well, sure,” the farmer says, “but I got a much better deal on the import.”

“That makes sense, I guess,” you say as the niggling grows. “Well, what about your laborers? I’ll bet you provide a lot of jobs for local boys.”

The farmer laughs. “Nah, the locals want me to pay ’em too much. I find that migrant labor is much more economical.”

The niggling gets worse. “Well, I mean, I guess you have a pretty good relationship with other farmers, right? Do you, like, trade produce?”

“Nope,” he says, shrugging. “I do most of my shopping at Wal-Mart. Frankly, they’ve got the best prices.”

Finally, the niggling becomes overwhelming. “So… So, what you’re telling me is that you don’t buy locally at all?”

The farmer’s face changes as he realizes where your train of thought has taken you. “Now wait a minute–“

“‘Wait’ nothing,” you say, aggravated. “You said, ‘Buy local.’ You said, ‘Support your local economy.’ You said, ‘The extra cost is negligible and that no community-minded person should think twice about spending more money if it means helping their neighbors.’ Yet, here you are, Mr. Penny-Pincher, ignoring your own high-minded moralizing. I’m never doing business with you again.”

The farmer blushes and blusters as you storm off.

See, unless advocates of buying local are sourcing everything locally themselves, their appeal amounts to asking you to impoverish yourself for their benefit on the basis of geographic proximity alone, and that’s nonsense.

Sure, maybe every person who thinks buying local is a good idea isn’t trying to swindle you, but the ultimate effect on those who accept the illogic from useful idiots is the same as if they were to believe it from hypocrites who moralize geography.