… a post in which I recovering and publish an old draft, adding train-of-thoughty ramblings.
Resurrection is partly in note of COSE’s “buy local” week, which I’m not sure it’s getting much press, aside from on the clevecentric blogs in my feed; partly instigated by my relative furor [**] over not discovering Blickbags before ordering my Timbuk2 messenger. (The latter does a fine job for commuting and small errands, but it doesn’t scream faux-underdog-hipster like something made in 216.)
Similar is the 3/50 project‘s simple premise: think of three locally-owned, brick & mortar businesses that you’d miss if they were gone. Go there. Spend $50 that you might otherwise ship to a big-box retailer or online warehouse. The idea, of course, is that although you pay a little bit more to account for lost economy of scale (or your self-imposed restriction on pricing competition), a higher fraction of your expenditure returns indirect value to you: the business contributes to your local tax base, employs your neighbors [*] and invests in the same community in which you do.
The idea emphasizes something that I think often gets lost in the generic commercial landscape of the interconnected world: that our economic decisions should be made congnizent of their side effects. We see this more around us: that hybrid car won’t pay for itself, but there’s a social benefit that makes part of your purchase price a charitable donation to the commons. I know organically-raised grub probably doesn’t provide more nutrients, but maybe my choice has a side effect of less chemistry in someone’s dirt. This applies to 3/50 in the sense of the local commons: I’ll take care of my local dirt (or infrastructure, institutions or people) more than people far away because I care more about them. There are two assumptions, the morality of which might be debatable: first, we acknowledge that our economic system has externalities that are poorly accounted for; second, we allow such a strongly egocentrically-weighted utilitiarianism.
As an aside, the buy-local campaign works well with my goal to buy fewer, nicer things, balancing my thrifty instincts and making it easier to justify spending more than I must, in order to obtain those things best aligned with real life. (Real life is the use of those things to experience, as opposed to the ownership of those things, a realization that I associate with the boundary between early-adulthood and adulthood).
Back to the topic at hand, three very easy local choices:
- Bike stuff. Everything costs a little more, but I get the item that best (or better) fits my use case, often in brands that rely on resellers to coach their customers, rather than employing a broad-advertising strategy. I would miss the expertise, option to test-ride parts, and availability of a $1.75 spoke available mid-commute. [Counterpoint: no one is stitching cheap bike jerseys locally, and I have been known to order last-years clearance ones from a megawarehousestore.]
- Coffee. Available everywhere, and none is grown in Cleveland, but we have local roasters, which is a local investment in people and structure and contribute toward critical mass for export. The coffee shop is a very high-margin business, and I like to see my local joints reinvest (bagels from the local bagelier, pastries from the local baker) instead of shipping the profit margin to Seattle. [Counterpoint: beer has more variety available, so I branch out to regional breweries. But, I like to purchase it from my local, independent booze store.]
- Hardware. I don’t believe how long it look me to see the value of walking in, having a knowledgeable kid fetch me a packet of ten M8-40s and an unusual hinge, paying cash and leaving. I can’t walk from my car to the door at Home Depot in that amount of time. And, last time I needed wood glue, the proprietor suggested a brand I hadn’t seen before, and it works really nicely. [Counterpoint: for paint’s huge price difference and lumber, the Despot it is.]
Those three are no-brainers; I can think of other examples, where the product is unique (farmers’ market, home decor boutique, indie restaurant) or the expertise of a longtime owner-operator is beneficial (mechanic, shoe store, nursery).
[*] Sometimes literally; ours moonlights at the incredible Vine & Bean cafe. Local restaurants are another no-brainer, where the product quality hinges on creativity and personal investment. Chain restaurants are evil, and if I overhear you raving about your lunch with the girls at the Cheesecake Factory, I will hit you with something.
[**] Fury isn’t really in my repertoire. Mild purchase-regret is about as wild as I get in that regard.