The Fallacy of Buying Local

Below is a letter I wrote to the Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

To the Editor:

In your July 8th article about “buy local” week, you sold readers the fallacy of “buying local.”

I suppose that the theory is, if Clevelanders “buy local” as much as possible instead of buying from national chains, that Cleveland will be better off economically.

It’s a nice thought, but it’s simply not true that buying local is necessarily to Cleveland’s economic benefit.

Take the example of the guy who bought a remote control boat. He bought from a locally owned store because he wanted to keep the money in Cleveland. Buying from a big-box chain store would have had the same effect — supporting the livelihood of people who live in Cleveland. While local retailers may benefit from this concept (which is why they are among its biggest supporters), Clevelanders working at the big-box stores would suffer.

If Cleveland residents bought into this theory en masse, they would pay higher prices for goods, consciously making themselves less wealthy, with less discretionary income to spend at restaurants and other stores. Local retailers are often behind the curve when it comes to having incentives to improve their efficiency, which keeps costs low. Broad adoption of “buy local” wouldn’t change this.

As a transplanted Clevelander in Virginia, I buy Great Lakes Brewery beer, which is now sold in my area, for many reasons. Of course, I buy it because it is a Cleveland beer, delicious, and I went to St. Ignatius a block away. However, in transporting the product here, it becomes comparatively more expensive in price, which might deter me from buying it. If a comparable beer is more affordable, I buy that one.

Clearly, my decision to purchase Great Lakes helps Cleveland, even though I am removed from the Northeast Ohio marketplace. What if I adhered to buying local, and only bought beers brewed in Virginia? Of course, the employees at Dominion Brewery would benefit, but at the expense of Great Lakes’ employees. Whether the beer is sold at a big chain or a small grocery in D.C., my decisions are guided by price, which is the result of how efficient or inefficient both the brewery and the store are at making a product or service available to me.

In the grand scheme of things, the degree to how efficient companies are is generally represented through their prices, which help me determine what goods I buy. Clevelanders should not make purchases solely because a business is located here. A business should earn your hard-earned money because they offer the products you want at competitive prices you’re willing to pay — not because they are located in Cleveland.

Why should I make myself poorer to keep inefficient economic actors in business? Let’s hope Cleveland will not end up like Detroit and artificially keep inefficient businesses around longer than they should be. In the end, businesses that aren’t competitive in the market either fail or close their doors. And when we perpetuate unsustainable business practices, we as consumers not only suffer in the short term, but our region suffers in the long term. All while wasting our scarce resources through higher prices. This is the fallacy of buying local.

Jim Swift
Shaker Heights, OH / Alexandria, VA

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