10 Oct 2009

Buy Local?

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Today was the ISI conference on “Freedom and Virtue: Challenges and Prospects in a Time of Economic Crisis.” It was fun for me because (a) it’s my first ISI conference and (b) one of the speakers was Hillsdale College’s Gary Wolfram, who was my professor and then boss. I’ll post the videos when they’re available.

One of the speakers, Andrew Abela of the Catholic University of America, was giving a qualified defense of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton’s program of “distributivism” [.pdf].

Abela’s talk was really good, and I don’t want to dismiss the things he was talking about with a libertarian wave of the hand. However, he was defending the idea of “buying local,” and during the Q&A I relayed a true story (and you need to know that the conference was held in Indianapolis):

Last night when we all went out to dinner, the waiter was explaining to all of us that the meats were all raised within 25 miles. But I thought, “Why did I care about supporting Indiana farmers? If the waiter told me the meat came from Tennessee, then that would be an extra reason for me to buy it, if I want to support people in my community.”

Obviously I was mostly making a joke, but the point is a serious one: People are actually supposed to feel good about “buying local” even when they’re from out of town. Do you see how ridiculous that is? Would the waiter have objected if I ordered a cut of meat, raised in Indiana, while sitting in a restaurant in Nashville?

I know I know, one of the reasons you’re supposed to prefer locally grown vegetables etc. is that it is fresher. Fair enough. But a lot of the “buy local” people aren’t simply saying, “You should do this because it tastes better and is better for you.” No, it is a moral argument, that you should provide income to people who live down the street from you, rather than providing income to people who live in other states, or–gasp!–people who live in other countries.

P.S. It just occurred to me that the word Indianapolis is the name of the state with “polis” added. I’m guessing everyone else knew that when he was 3 years old. Well good for you. It was also relatively late in life when I realized Thanksgiving was a giving of thanks; up till then it had just been a blur of syllables to me that arbitrarily referred to a holiday.

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