SELL LOCAL! THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP
Article first published online: 28 MAR 2011
© 2011 Western Economic Association International
Volume 49, Issue 4, page 1117, October 2011
How to Cite
THOMPSON, P. and HODGES, H. (2011), SELL LOCAL! THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP. Economic Inquiry, 49: 1117. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-7295.2011.00369.x
- Issue published online: 20 SEP 2011
- Article first published online: 28 MAR 2011
- Online Early publication March 28, 2011
Buy local (BL) campaigns are gaining ground in many towns, cities, counties, and states throughout the United States. These commendable efforts are based on intuitive principles that: local production reduces energy usage and therefore mitigates against climate change; the rapid approach of peak oil will lead to potentially disastrous dislocations that will erode society's ability to provide adequate food supplies and medical care; and face-to-face economic relationships between producer and consumer, such as in a farmers' market setting, provide a superior form of economic organization relative to the impersonal nature of our current industrial modes of production.
It is in this spirit that we, the members of Sustainability in Transportation, Utilities, Production, the Environment, and Development (STUPED), urge our local governments to take the next logical step: requirements for selling local. One advantage of BL campaigns is that they address an important root issue in market economies—that in many cases consumers ultimately determine what is produced—but that strength can also be a weakness. That is, in order for BL promotions to truly succeed, they must convince much of the population of the essential goodness of buying local. This is a difficult task, as consumers often fail to understand the extent to which their desires and preferences have been manipulated by the rapacious “mass market” and its enablers in the advertising industry, and tend to reject the notion that any such manipulation has occurred. Therefore, STUPED believes that while the BL message can be successfully communicated to committed consumers who are in fact aware that they are the targets of advertising manipulations, such enlightened consumers are insufficiently numerous for the campaigns to provide significant progress.
But consider instead how much easier it would be to simply require businesses to sell only in local markets. Although there are large numbers of businesses, there are far fewer sellers than buyers, making monitoring for purposes of sell-local requirements a much less onerous task. As all businesses must maintain some sort of legal presence—a business license, incorporation status, and so forth—the authorities already have a good record of which entities sell which goods. In addition, as most large-scale transportation involves the interregional, interstate, or international movement from producers/sellers to ultimate buyers, a simple ban on most such transportation would be more effective and easier to enforce in comparison with a shipment-by shipment evaluation to determine which goods must be legitimately transported extra-locally and which could be more beneficially produced by local sources. In addition, we believe that the Constitution's commerce clause denies the states the authority to restrict imports into the state, but does not preclude export restrictions.
This is also clearly a fairer way to approach the problem of non-local production. There exists the temptation for a given locality to urge its community members to BL, but to also simultaneously promote selling to other localities in the name of “increased local employment.” Of course, this kind of thinking totally ignores the fact that by selling goods to another region, those of us in a local production area cause harm to workers in that distant region who, as a result of our incursion into their local economies, reduce that distant region's abilities to provide for itself.
Given the foregoing, it is evident that sell-local requirements are virtually required for the sustainability of our local economies. Buy Local publicity campaigns may make us feel better, but a well-enforced set of sell-local regulations eliminates the thorniest problem of a free-market approach—the tendency of consumers to buy whatever they darn well please. STUPED urges our local governments to adopt such a set of regulations.