The Middle Ages are fashionable again

I saw this in my monthly BJ’s membership magazine. BJ’s is like CostCo for the East Coast, and doesn’t have the nightmarish parking problems that CostCo in Pentagon City has.

I snapped this pic because it made me think of a quote Russ Roberts blogged over on CafeHayek. 

“I often say that we’ve tried the “buy local” experiment, it’s called the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, we mainly bought local and pretty much everyone was poor.”

If people want to buy local just for buying local’s sake, they’re of course free to do so. I don’t think it’s appropriate for government to tell people how they should have to buy their goods, what goods to buy, or from whom to buy them. (Take note, anti-Walmart, buy American, and buy local activists.)

Consumers are free to petition the stores they frequent or stores they are members of (like BJ’s) to carry locally grown or produced items. I buy local all of the time, but I don’t buy into it as a mantra. I want things from across the country or across the globe. I want them when they’re in season or out of season, and (like most consumers) I want them at the best possible price. If Canadian beef is cheaper than beef from the Midwest or Brazil, I’ll thank my neighbors to the north.

Consumers value a variety of things — but all of them care very much about price. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are either filthy rich or liars.

Before you get all “commercialized beef isn’t as healthy/good for the environment as grass fed beef” — consider a few things:

  1. Grass-fed beef, while very good and delicious, isn’t sustainable environmentally or in land use.
  2. “Food miles” depends a lot on each situation.

I don’t fault BJ’s for wanting to cater to the wishes of some consumers. However, I disagree that it has become popular again for “all the right reasons.” This is just BJ’s making buy local activists feel better about themselves. Then again, I doubt many of the serious activists stop at big box stores over co-ops and farmer’s markets.

On the contrary, I think it has become popular for silly reasons (which I have written about at length.)

Either way, yes, buying local was commonplace for centuries until we evolved into a truly world market that has fascinatingly high levels of trade, an unparalleled availability of goods not available centuries ago, and best of all, affordability.

As long as the market is free and open, and people are not trying to place barriers to free and open trading, it’s fine to buy whatever you want for whatever reason you want, even if I think those reasons are silly.

RELATED:

When buying local from co-ops goes online (or when they really don’t care about food miles.)

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