From the “Ignorance Dies Hard” Department comes this report from one of my local newspapers, The Hook:
In tough economic times, it might be hard to come up with anything more visceral than this appeal from a Central Virginia businesswoman: “Buy local. Save your job.”
It’s a slogan so powerful that it’s been attracting attention since its last-year unveiling, and it’s the brainchild of a local business owner.
“I want tax dollars staying in Albemarle [County],” says Nancy Vetter, vice president of PrintSource, a printing and marketing company located on Berkmar Drive.
Vetter says she was inspired to put her message into the iconic European automobile oval sticker format when she saw yet another customer go online to order out-of-state printing services.
“Spending money in California doesn’t help here,” says Vetter.
Well…it helps California, right? And don’t they deserve economic prosperity as much as Virginia?
In response to Ms. Vetter’s false bumper-sticker economics, I’d cite this counterargument from Russ Roberts, who actually knows something about economics:
When I talk about the idea of “buying local” I often say that we’ve tried the “buy local” experiment, it’s called the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, we mainly bought local and pretty much everyone was poor. This isn’t a proof that buying local is impoverishing. A lot of things have changed since the Middle Ages so it could be that we’re richer now than we once were because of those things, not because we trade with a wider slice of humanity than we did then. But I’m trying to get people to think about the logic of buying local. Even if we had the technology we have now and traded with only a few thousand people who lived near us (as was the case in the Middle Ages for the most part), we’d be desperately poor. We couldn’t sustain the division of labor that creates our current level of prosperity.
In fairness, Ms. Vetter seems less concerned about prosperity then she does maintaining the status quo — particularly when it comes to preserving the local monopoly government:
She surmises that many people just don’t realize how online ordering can yank money from the local economy. And for many younger people, online is the first place they go when making a purchase.
“My daughter says toner is $3 cheaper in New Jersey,” says Vetter, who notes that when one adds in shipping costs, online isn’t always cheaper.
It’s not just private businesses that lose out when dollars leave Central Virginia. So do cash-strapped local governments.
“Someday, you’re going to need a cop, you’re going to need a library, and your kid is going to need a teacher, ” says Vetter, who is so impassioned about keeping money in the local economy, she has also printed a flier that urges: “Buy local. It benefits us all.”
Sure, if you believe police, libraries, and schools can only be provided through violent extraction from the local populace, then Ms. Vetter’s “buy local” argument makes a good deal of sense. Governments are parasitic organisms by design. A dollar spent outside its jurisdiction is a “loss” to the parasite.
It would also never occur to Ms. Vetter and that services like police and libraries would could be provided more efficiently — better service, lower costs — if they were open to the same type of competition as other businesses. Of course, Ms. Vetter doesn’t like competition to begin with. Her entire “buy local” campaign is nothing more than an attempt to smear her more efficient competitors as somehow less righteous and altruistic as her. Instead of actually trying to provide a superior service, she insists that she’s entitled to customer support merely because they happen to live in the same geographical area.
I also suspect that Ms. Vetter is no stranger to the benefits of non-local exchange. Don’t tell me her printing business is composed entirely of goods acquired within the boundaries of Albemarle County. Nor, I’m willing to wager, does she reject customers who come from outside the county.
And going back to the negative impact on her beloved local government: Is it possible, just possible, that the ever-rising cost of monopoly government might be a factor driving the growth of non-local competitors, in particular Internet-based retailers? Physical businesses accept a host of local mandates and controls that divert capital away from actually serving customers. It’s understandable that a physical retailer like Ms. Vetter is frustrated that she’s paying for an overpriced, over-burdensome county government while her online competitors do not. But then she should take her frustrations out on the people who are actually hurting her business — the county officials — instead of offering a Stockholm Syndrome-induced plea to save her attackers from the prospect of declining ransoms.
As Professor Roberts noted, “buy local” is a strategy for stagnation and poverty. It is not a valid method of “saving jobs” or creating prosperity. And it’s foolish to indulge such ignorance as anything other than the economic equivalent of witchcraft.