by Don Boudreaux on February 1, 2016

in Myths and Fallacies, Seen and Unseen, Video

Among the more economically idiotic fetishes of the past several years is the “Buy Local” movement.  Last year I did a video on this fetish.  And regular Cafe Hayek readers know that I’m a big fan of Pierre Desrochers’s and Hiroko Shimizu’s 2012 book, The Locavore’s Dilemma.

Ferris State University (in Michigan) econ professor Dave Hebert – a GMU Econ PhD – just posted this item on his Facebook page:

I’ve been invited to appear on Buy Local Michigan to discuss what it means to buy local in a global economy. Given that the email ended with “remember to buy and shop locally,” I think he wants me to talk about how beneficial buying local is.

Obviously, this isn’t a policy or philosophy that I condone. But I need to 1) be civil about it and 2) establish common ground that the host and I can share.

What sort of common ground would you suggest I seek to establish? Here are my thoughts. We both want…

1) local people to have quality jobs.
2) local people to live healthily and wealthily.
3) ???

There’s much to say – among which is, as I suggested in a comment on Dave’s page, this question:

Ask your host if he believes that people outside of Michigan should buy local automobiles.

The practice of locos (as I call them) is to dismiss such a question as an irrelevant reductio ad absurdum.  “Well, we’re not asking people to buy locally things that are impossible to find locally!” – is the sort of “we’re reasonable in our economics” dodge that is offered by locos to such a question.  But in fact the range of products that can rather easily be purchased only locally is much larger than even locos recognize. Here’s a follow-up comment (here modified from the original) that I put on Dave’s Facebook page:

P.S. Don’t let your host avoid the question about buying local cars by saying that such is impossible. First (and least interestingly) one reason there aren’t more local auto plants spread around the country is because Michigan has historically done such a good job at producing good cars and selling them profitably at low prices.  Who knows how many cities and towns would have viable auto factories if only the denizens of those places would buy locally produced cars?  True, the prices of such new cars would be much higher than are the prices of new cars made in Michigan, but so what?  All the extra money that the local folks spend on those cars would remain in the local community (as the locos’ theory goes) and so those high costs and high prices would actually promote each locale’s economic thriving!

Second and more to the point, the world is awash in used cars.  There are many used cars in almost every locale across America.  Buying more used cars locally – in the likes of Culpeper, Virginia, and Salem, Oregon – is not only possible, it is quite feasible.  And, like all local purchases, buying only locally sold cars would keep local money in the local communities and, thereby, enrich all the locals (assuming, that is, that the locos’ economics is correct).

Of course, what’s true for cars is true for many other products that are thought not to be available locally – products such as steel and aluminum (scrap metal can be found in many places if one looks hard enough).  Likewise, one need not live near an electronics factory to buy locally available computers and other consumer electronic products.  Nearly every burgh in the Western world has lots of used computers, used cell phones, used e-pads, used televisions, and other such used products.  These, too, can therefore be bought locally rather easily.

Now I admit – quite readily – that it is very easy to list many reasons why buying such things locally makes no good sense.  Indeed, making such a list gives you a good idea why the “buy local” movement is loco.


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