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View Full Version : Don't fall for this reason to support local agriculture


Neal Winkler
06-17-2008, 07:28 AM
I keep seeing calls in various places (e.g. Mark's Daily Apple and elsewhere) in the online health/fitness community to "support local agriculture." Often reasons will be given for buying local such as "the food is fresher and tastier" or "it's cheaper," which are awesome reasons but then it's always followed by something like "besides you should support your local agriculture/community" as if buying local food is an end in itself and not just a means to an end. So I went looking for reasons as to why I should "support local agriculture" other than the fact that they give me a product I want for a price I'm willing to pay, and I found this (http://fogcity.blogs.com/downloadable_docs/10reasons.pdf) article which had an incredibly stupid reason to buy local.

Let's look at the reason:

(1) Eating local means more for the local economy According to a study by the New Economics Foundation in London, a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. When businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction.

Wow, what a truly stupid reason to "support local agriculture." Let me get this straight, every community should spend as much much money as it can in it's own community because "it generates twice as much income" and the "money leaves the community" if you spend it elsewhere, which, I assume, will make your community poorer or something and if you keep doing it you will all eventually end up living in squalor. Ummmm, ok. How about this for an alternative: offer a service that other people want and they will give you money for it whether they're in your own community or not and every community will just exchange money with one another and you'll all be fine. Brilliant. The more people cooperate with one another and expand the division of labor the more wealthy everyone will be. If you try and live in isolated little communities where you don't share like a two year old you'll relegate yourself to the life of a serf in the year 1250.

Hey, I've got an idea. I'm only going to buy products that are manufactured in my own town because "it generates twice as much income." Ok, I want to go buy some clothes today... oops, my town doesn't have a manufacturing plant that makes clothes I guess I'll have to contract with a local seamstress. Hmmm, what else do I want, how about some shoes... I'm in luck! We have a shoe plant in the area... but wait... certainly they get the leather from one of those "evil" non-local communities and the rubber for the soles too! How dare they steal jobs that local citizens could of had! Don't those evil doers want to support their local community?!?!? Well, forget that, I suppose I'll have to kill a deer and make some moccasins for myself. Now, I was also going to buy a house but the wood at the local home depot comes from one of those evil wealth destroying non-local communities. Also, I'm pretty sure we don't make screws either. I guess I'll just have to chop down some local trees made out of an axe that I sharpened from local rock and fashion myself a log cabin. Wow, this feels really good to support my local community and "generate twice as much income". I feel twice as rich already.

Yael Grauer
06-17-2008, 08:23 AM
Have you read Michael Pollan? This is a really complex issue that needs to be addressed by looking at the whole system.

Dave Van Skike
06-17-2008, 11:23 AM
Reductio ad absurdum.

How about this reason...

it's stupid to buy something that has to be shipped umpteen miles when you can get a local fresh version of the same that doesn't carry the cost of shipping and the money I pay for it might go to someone I know.

I buy my groceries at a supermarket, I buy my beer at a local corner market, owned by a family. Why? because I want that guy and his family to stay in business so that I don't have to go all the way to the grocery store for a freaking six pack. And...he's a really nice guy.

I buy my produce from a CSA that has a huge party every year called the Hog and Grog...they roast pigs in the ground and serve sweet local beer and play bluegrass music.


These are the people in my neighborhood. I like them.

Allen Yeh
06-18-2008, 03:09 AM
Your 666th post....

Neal Winkler
06-18-2008, 06:50 AM
Yael and Dave,

I think you misunderstood my post. I wasn't arguing against eating local I was only arguing against a stupid reason for eating local.

Eating local is obviously better because it's fresher, tastier, and cheaper. However, eating local is NOT better because it generates twice as much income for the local economy - because it doesn't. Applying that logic consistently would lead to a decrease in the wealth of the local community.

John Alston
06-18-2008, 07:31 AM
It's often not cheaper.
We eat local because it makes us feel warm and fuzzy, because we like to enrich our neighbors more than distant folk, who might even need our money more.

Dave Van Skike
06-18-2008, 09:58 AM
Yael and Dave,

I think you misunderstood my post. I wasn't arguing against eating local I was only arguing against a stupid reason for eating local.

Eating local is obviously better because it's fresher, tastier, and cheaper. However, eating local is NOT better because it generates twice as much income for the local economy - because it doesn't. Applying that logic consistently would lead to a decrease in the wealth of the local community.

Lucky thing we don't have to apply "logic" in anything remotely like a consistent fashion.

Now look what you made me do...I screwed up my perfect post count...I wanted to bail out of here with 666 posts.

Neal Winkler
06-19-2008, 11:12 AM
What if the local farmer secretly beats his wife?

Dave Van Skike
06-19-2008, 01:09 PM
What if the local farmer secretly beats his wife?

Sorry, I can't answer that. I'm only supporting local philosophy 101 students.

Gant Grimes
06-19-2008, 02:28 PM
That rant took a lot of energy.

I buy local when possible. The fewer Yankee fingers that have handled my food, the better.

Neal Winkler
07-15-2008, 06:55 AM
This article came out today which says the same thing that I did in my first post, but only in a much less pithy manner. Check it out, it's a good read...

http://www.mises.org/story/3026

Here's some quotes that say the same thing I did:

"Since the decision to buy locally is essentially the decision to forsake comparative advantage, every unit of agricultural output will be more resource intensive than it would be under specialization, division of labor, and trade."

and

"'Buy local' is, at its logical limit, a prescription for poverty and starvation."

Allen Yeh
07-15-2008, 09:25 PM
Often when I get food at the farmers market those items when compared to things I get at any chain supermarket are more expensive, but the quality is also far better, i.e. peaches, cherries, and apples as one example. Other things to which I notice no difference in like broccoli or spinach I opt for the chain supermarket.

I skimmed the article Neal and it smacks of a viewpoint in making sure that anyone who argues with them can't possibly be right. Not my cup of tea.

Neal Winkler
07-16-2008, 06:04 AM
I didn't get that vibe, but maybe that's because I already agree with it. Can you show me what you mean?

Also, at the end of the article he agree's that there is one really good reason to buy local, that being quality.

But the overall point of the article is that buying local agriculture, just for the sake of buying local or conserving resources, doesn't achieve it's aims.

Dave Van Skike
07-16-2008, 07:35 AM
But the overall point of the article is that buying local agriculture, just for the sake of buying local or conserving resources, doesn't achieve it's aims.

that's why it's a philosophical exercise but not realistic exercise..

you can make the same argument about a lot of things...there's rarely just one reason to do something.

decisions in the marketplace are not made with perfect information by perfectly rational actors...

Neal Winkler
07-16-2008, 07:50 AM
decisions in the marketplace are not made with perfect information by perfectly rational actors

I never thought they (decisions) were.

Homo ecomonicus is a fallacy.

But I'm still not following your critque about this being philosophical and not realistic. What would I realize if I was being "realistic?"

Dave Van Skike
07-16-2008, 08:53 AM
What would I realize if I was being "realistic?"


I'm not sure Neal.

Neal Winkler
07-29-2008, 08:51 AM
Here's an interesting article on why it isn't always a good idea to buy local:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1553456/Greener-by-miles.html

It's mostly about carbon emissions, but there was a nice point towards the end:

"Anti-poverty groups, however, fear that a return to seasonal, locally sourced produce could end up harming the economies of developing countries. More than one million people in Africa are dependent on the trade supplying fresh fruit and vegetables to Britain."

African's are trying to participate in the international division of labor which would help to bring up their living standards, and our own. However, protectionists are trying to shut them out and keep them down in the depths of poverty.

Allen Yeh
07-29-2008, 10:22 AM
Interesting article Neal.

Africa is a whole other can of worms.

Tom Rawls
07-29-2008, 10:39 AM
Neal,

Perhaps I misunderstand your position, but the "multiplier effect" of buying local goods has long been cited as a way of building local economies. However sympathetic I am toward poor 3d world communities, I'm at least as sympathetic toward the struggles of my neighboring farmers, equipment dealers, and such in the local economic web.

Neal Winkler
07-29-2008, 01:24 PM
Tom, let's say the multiplier is real (I don't believe it is). If I spend $100 dollars on produce from a non-local community then that will generate income for them to return the favor. So long as my community is producing goods that other communities want, it all comes back around anyway.

As to your point about the plight of local farmers, if you don't buy local produce they won't be out of a job, they just won't be farming. What will happen is that the money saved by buying non-local will be spent on something else and create jobs in whatever else instead.

What you have fallen prey to is looking only at what is seen, and not at what is unseen. Bastiat wrote a beautiful essay on this (http://bastiat.org/en/twisatwins.html) that you should read if you are so inclined.

So, like I said, what you can see is that by buying local produce you are helping make a living for the local farmers. But what you do not see is that if you bought non-local then those farmers would still make a living just not at farming. Therefore, in the end you needn't be concerned about their well-being.

Tom Rawls
07-29-2008, 01:53 PM
Tom, let's say the multiplier is real (I don't believe it is). If I spend $100 dollars on produce from a non-local community then that will generate income for them to return the favor. So long as my community is producing goods that other communities want, it all comes back around anyway.

As to your point about the plight of local farmers, if you don't buy local produce they won't be out of a job, they just won't be farming. What will happen is that the money saved by buying non-local will be spent on something else and create jobs in whatever else instead.

What you have fallen prey to is looking only at what is seen, and not at what is unseen. Bastiat wrote a beautiful essay on this (http://bastiat.org/en/twisatwins.html) that you should read if you are so inclined.

So, like I said, what you can see is that by buying local produce you are helping make a living for the local farmers. But what you do not see is that if you bought non-local then those farmers would still make a living just not at farming. Therefore, in the end you needn't be concerned about their well-being.


Neal,

I haven't read the essay yet, but I will. Thank you.

Meantime, you appear to be suggesting a benign global economy is at work.

And I think you are describing a somewhat utopian view of how things work locally. If you were to visit Midwestern towns w/ empty storefronts, you might have a different view. Some will argue that this situation is the natural result of more efficient agriculture, etc.

In my corner of the world, I know one farmer up the road who now happily runs a golf course on what was hilly pasture, while a neighboring farmer went bankrupt, and another neighbor has added cows, keeps them inside on concrete, brings the feed to them, and by the way, docks their tails. He's doing okay.

Everything changes, but all changes are not desirable. Jobs that provide equal pay do not necessarily provide equal personal satisfaction.

Whenever discussing such matters, I am always reminded of what Robertson Davies, the wonderful Canadian writer said of "economics": "I prefer my astrology without water."

Neal Winkler
07-29-2008, 04:28 PM
Tom,

I guess my view would be utopian if I was saying that when consumer preferences shift, causing a reallocation of resources away from a particular industry, and thus a loss of jobs, that the people who lose their jobs are painlessly re-assimilated into the work force at equally satisfying and paying jobs in a very short period of time.

But that's not what I'm saying. What you described was a transition period as the labor and materials from the local farms are re-allocated. Some of he farms will choose to hang on longer than others and suffer greater losses. This is their choice. Others will adapt and make out just fine as you described. This is life, but there is no reason why local people are more deserving of my money than anyone else, per say.

If you believe that you can keep everyone from losing their jobs and simultaneously enjoy a high standard of living by buying local, then I am not the one with a utopian view.

"If you were to visit Midwestern towns w/ empty storefronts, you might have a different view."

No, I wouldn't. I would just say what I said above, that this is what happens when consumer preferences are shifted. I would tell the people to use their entreprenuerial abilities to come up with a product/service that consumers want or to move away if their current situation is not to their liking.

Something that was said in the original article was, "how local is local?"

Maybe I should only spend money in my neighborhood? City? County? Congressional district? Arbitrary radius of 25 miles? State? Country? Continent? Hemisphere? Maybe if aliens from alpha centary came to visit us we could have calls only to buy produce from Earth and not from the aliens planet. Then earth would be thought of as local.

When you spoke of the mutiplier effect are you saying that it somehow makes a local community richer because it "senses" that it is working in a totally arbitrary boundry known as "local?"

By the way, moderators, if this discussion is too political just tell me to cease and I will.

Neal Winkler
07-29-2008, 05:14 PM
Actually, let me say something about the comment that I just made about local farmers not deserving my money more than anyone else. While I do believe this is true, I'm NOT trying to say that anyone else shouldn't have their own individual reasons to prefer local (whatever that means, i.e. nothing) to non-local produce. If you just want to buy local because it makes you feel good to buy produce from a close proximity, then that's your business.

I think I'm obscurring what I'm trying to argue by making such assertions. I'm not trying to argue that you shouldn't buy local because local farmers are no better than non-local.

The ONLY thing I'm trying to argue is that buying local doesn't make the local community more wealthy, and therefore that particular reason to buy local does not acheive it's objective.

Tom Rawls
07-29-2008, 05:20 PM
Neal,

Most of what you say makes sense, but I think humans tend to more comfortable in "tribal" settings. "Local" is one of those settings. The definition of local and tribal identity will vary with individuals, and with circumstances, but we like to see our own thrive.

As you note, we also need to be able to adapt, seemingly more so today than a generation or two ago.

I like to buy local because I like to buy from people I know. Buying local is a way to "integrate" life. Economic transactions are also social, emotional, and informational. If you buy at big box stores, for example, the transactions are more purely business, and perhaps more "efficient", but life and society are "dis-integrated."

It's just life. People make choices about what values they wish to support, sometimes knowingly, often not.