Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Stop Telling Me to "Shop Locally"

By Alan Stevo

If guilt is the best you have to offer a customer, you probably don't have that much to offer a customer.
When I walk into Walmart I know I will be able to get a wide selection of products, I will be able to get them cheap, and I will be able to get them with very little customer support or hassle. When I want that, it feels great. Fast, simple, cheap. 
There is no guilt campaign from
Walmart. There is no appeal to me about how bad of a person I am if I don't shop at Walmart. There are no protestors outside my houses or outside other stores convincing me it is bad to shop anywhere but Walmart. When I step foot in a Walmart, I go there because that is exactly what I want. I go there because they are better than anyone else at providing for me as a consumer in the ways that Walmart is so proficient in providing for me. 
When I shop at Amazon.com, I get a wide selection of goods, at a cheap price with both the ease and occasional difficulty that comes with shopping online. They do that better than anyone else. When I want that, it feels great to turn to Amazon and get that, and to get it exactly as I expected, and to, often enough, be surprised by an experience that is even better than what I expected. 
There is no guilt campaign from Amazon, there are no protestors outside my house convincing me it is bad to shop anywhere but Amazon. There are no online ads pointing out how immoral it is of me to shop anywhere that isn't Amazon. I use Amazon because Amazon is exactly what I want at that moment. 
This is in sharp contrast with the average "mom and pop" shops. 
When I step foot into a local shop, all too often, I find nothing remotely of value to me. It is an unpleasant experience with an unhelpful, or sometimes even rude and unknowledgeable salesperson. 
I don't feel like I'm contributing to my community by shopping in such places. To the contrary, I hope most low value shops like that go out of business. The sooner they go out of business the better. By even being in existence they take up valuable real estate that can be used by others seeking to innovate the local space, to provide a better consumer experience, and to develop a better use for that local space. 
Not only do I not feel guilty for not patronizing these mediocre local businesses, it makes me sad that they even exist. They are partially propped up by the guilt movement that encourages consumers to disregard all other benefits in favor of having the opportunity to shop locally, a movement I find misguided at best, more often ill-informed, and often enough willfully ignorant and therefore blatantly deceitful. The moral thing is to help bad local businesses go under by not patronizing them, and therefore helping to clean out that detritus that takes up valuable local brick and mortar space. 
Confusing charity with shopping, confusing philanthropic activity with consumer activity benefits no one but the mediocre shop owner. 
Shopping locally generally offers me only one added value — immediacy. I like shopping locally because it is nice to have an item that I want in my hand before I buy it so that I can look it over. It feels nice to have it in my hand ten minutes after I decide that I want it. Soon that will barely be an added value. With Amazon's same day delivery, it is already barely more immediate to shop for most things locally. If one can restrain oneself for an hour or two and not have truly immediate gratification, then Amazon, all things considered provides a far more valuable shopping experience to me than a local mom and pop on virtually all products. Also, while a minor added value, it is visually appealing to have an active business district. I am sure I can rather quickly adapt to a business district concept that looks different than what I am used to. 
When I happen to sit down at a friend's or relative's home where the television is on, especially at this holiday time of year, I hear public service announcements about how important it is to shop locally. I sometimes hear as many as one or two segments on each news broadcast that interject how important it is to shop locally. 
This is practically mindless — this "shop locally" pronouncement. Guilt about not shopping locally and feeling good about the idea of shopping locally is practically the only value proposition offered by local stores. Instead the pronouncement should be "shop at good shops," or "shop at shops that give you what you want and how you want it."
In some places — and the places are thankfully becoming more common — walking into a local store truly is brilliant. The reason some locales have such high quality stores, is precisely because some people were so unwilling to shop locally. 
Because competition has upped the level of difficulty required to run a store, and driven so many bad stores out of business, we are left with increasingly better stores that are increasingly customer focused. For a consumer, that is a great shift in local businesses. Businesses that don't provide more local value than the guilt of "shop local" are becoming less common. 
This is sadly not happening as quickly as it could. People stuck in an ideology, as thoughtless as any other ideology, profess that "buy local" is some sort of unchallengeable axiom, a fundamental, impossible to further elucidate truth that all people must profess and live by or otherwise are subject to moral condemnation. 
Even in places like the bougie neighborhoods here in Brooklyn, that ideological attitude proliferates, along with its accompanying misguided moralism. This is substituted for a far-preferable constant pursuit of higher quality and higher customer satisfaction that pervades the free market and has led to so much development in quality of life over the past several hundred years since the Industrial Revolution.  
I'd prefer that society start saying "stop shopping locally." The competition is good for local stores — they have to be the best possible thing, the most desired thing to even survive in such an environment.
The Walmart and the Amazons of the world came into the bush leagues and upped the competition to major league level. Of this, I am entirely grateful, and though I really like these companies and companies like them, I also look forward to the next generation of companies that squeeze the Walmarts and the Amazons of the world and perhaps even put them out of business. Of course, the established entities in a place had the new destabilizing competition. It's great for the consumer.
I will feel no guilt at such a moment. Guilt does not bring me value as a consumer and it is of limited value to me as a person. I will focus on feeling good about the benefits of what life offers. 
Allan Stevo is the author of Somewhere Between Bratislava and DC and the forthcoming 17 Nov 1989. He writes specifically on Slovak culture and generally on Central European culture from an Austrian-School perspective at 52 Weeks in Slovakia

The above originally appeared at Mises.org


  1. Doesn't this guy know WMT puts its workers on Fed Gov bennies as a matter of course to keep wages down? Or the quality corners cut by vendors to maintain those "everyday low prices? How about Bezos' yuuuge contracts with the CIA which allow Amazon.com to be a "loss leader." There's nothing wrong with bigness, per se, but there are plenty of dark shadows to investigate before thinking pure free markets reign anywhere.

    1. Re: Hollow Daze,

      --- Doesn't this guy know WMT puts its workers on Fed Gov bennies as a matter of course to keep wages down? ---


    2. @ F. Torres: Nice reasoned argument you got there. I understand there is some controversy over the gov't benefits as a subsidy to WMT (and other large corps) issue but the practical effect exists.

    3. Here is some reasoning; Walmart does not force any of its employees to go on government assistance. Walmart does not force any of its employees to work for Walmart's market wages. Government should not be in the welfare business, but it is; why not get yours? Government welfare is not Walmart's fault. It is the low class voters and sleazy politicians that steal from you and me, to give away to other people.

      My anecdotal evidence is my Mother-in-law and Father-in-law both work at Walmart, are regular stock clerks, and do not have any government welfare assistance; this is in California too, one of the most expensive states to live in. They live below their means. So it is possible to work at Walmart, for the wages they offer, and not be "forced" to take government handouts.
      Your logic is undeniable, VIKI.

      Also, if you do not like the quality of Walmart's products, please do not shop there. That is the beauty of the free market, you have options. If you don't like your provider, you can find a better one.

    4. Hollow,

      Can you flush out the "practical effect" contention you are making?

    5. @Welorf: Personal anecdotes are interesting but the research I've seen tells a different story. One interesting cite, although a bit dated, is as follows: http://www.politifact(dot)com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/dec/06/alan-grayson/alan-grayson-says-more-walmart-employees-medicaid-/

      There are many others that describe this phenomenon. Startpage wal-mart subsidy watch.

    6. "Walmart does not force any of its employees to go on government assistance. Walmart does not force any of its employees to work for Walmart's market wages. "

      Those who qualify for welfare can bid their labor lower and thus end up with a higher income if they get the job over someone else. This distorts the labor market where Walmart is the largest employer. Walmart lobbies for the welfare programs which distort the market for labor in its favor.

      "Government welfare is not Walmart's fault"

      Walmart lobbies for it. Walmart accepts it from customers as payment. It may not be their fault but they certainly cheer on its continuation and expansion.

    7. Re: Hollow Haze,

      You're one to talk. You presented an unsubstantiated assertion entirely based on your opinion regarding the wage level of Walmart workers. Because your opinion it is, no more than that. So don't come here expecting an argued response to your claptrap.

    8. @ Jimmy, the problem then, is not Walmart, the problem is government stepping beyond its bounds to protect property rights. You should not be lamenting over Walmart accepting payment from customers, you should be lamenting the fact that the government steals from certain groups of people to give a percentage of that to another group of people. Get rid of government welfare, and the supposed "Walmart paying lower wages to its employees then you would like" problem goes away. The funny thing about markets, is absent government intervention, they magically clear. Take away government welfare, and Walmart will either figure it out, or fail. You focus on Walmart paying wages that people agree to work for, when all other companies do the same thing. Focus on getting the real problem fixed, and the other symptoms will correct themselves.

      @Hollow Daze, Okay Walmart has a "high percentage" of employees that are on government assistance. Here is the solution. Let's get rid of government welfare, and then once government welfare is gone, 0% of Walmart's employees will receive government assistance. Problem solved.

      Again, your focus is on the wrong thing. It should be government corruption, not the things a corporation is doing that the government allows it to do.

    9. @Welorf: I agree gov't intervention and the attendant corruption is a problem. Yet, as Jimmy suggests, maybe WMT likes the way things are. Crony capitalists tend to like privatized profits and socialized losses (or other costs that increase profits). You think maybe WMT's lobbyists have more "pull" than me, you and Jimmy?

  2. @Rick Miller: WMT workers are reported to be paid low wages and it has been documented by others that many qualify for and receive a material amount of gov't bennies. Is that just a coincidence? Or is it possible the two are connected and represent an economic calculation that is consensually agreed to by WMT and its prospective employees on an extremely large scale? If an employer says I'll pay you $8 and hour but if you sign up for these gov't bennies (and has the forms and local bureaucrat's phone number handy) you'll effectively make $10 an hour and the employee signs up, has the employee been "forced"?

    I've done some research on this topic and, while I believe there is enough evidence to support calling WMT a crony capitalist company whose prosperity is propped up by taxpayer money in a number of ways, controversy remains. It is also my belief that some libertarians have a blind spot on issues like this, which, in the minds of many non-libertarians (most folks) serves to conflate support of capitalism with support of crony capitalism.

    1. Re: Hollow Daze,
      --- WMT workers are reported [sic] to be paid low wages ---

      "Are reported"? Again: Liar.

    2. Hollow,

      You say that "WMT workers are reported to be paid low wages..."

      As compared to what?

      Would this reminder from the article you cited above change your mind about the the comparative tax burden of those who work at Walmart?:

      "...the presence of Wal-Mart at the top of the list is not necessarily unexpected given its size and the nature of wages for retailing."

      Secondly, what evidence do you have that this scenario you present occurs "as a matter of course", as you stated originally?:

      "...an employer says I'll pay you $8 and hour but if you sign up for these gov't bennies (and has the forms and local bureaucrat's phone number handy) you'll effectively make $10 an hour and the employee signs up..."

  3. @F. Torres & Rick Miller: The wages are low enough to qualify for a panoply of means tested type gov't bennies. This is "reported" in many of the sources I cited previously.

    @Rick Miller: The scenario I presented was meant simply to show how WMT could "nudge" employees sign up for bennies consensually as part of a greater economic calculation that could be a tremendous benefit to WMT due to lowering overall wage costs (and beneficial to the individual employee by raising his effective salary) without resorting to force. Of course, it is possible that every single WMT employee could sign up on his own initiative. I don't have any hard evidence of how it happens but the fact remains that, while it is true WMT doesn't violate the NAP by forcing anyone to sign up for bennies against their will, the number of WMT employees qualifying for and receiving bennies is exceptionally high. As such, however it is effected, it appears to me to be something that is done as a matter of course.

  4. Stop Telling Me to "Shop Locally Libertarian"

    Should we shop libertarian? If so, what does a libertarian business model look like? You could argue that Walmart is libertarian by getting the most value from the force of government and passing that value to its customers. Their motives probably have nothing to do with libertarianism but there is an argument for the end results.

    What about Bezos contracts with the CIA? A good libertarian can’t transact with the likes of this. I argue (although not 100% thought through) that to be the most successful in the current business environment you need to play the current game. That game is heavily influenced by government. If Amazon does not take the CIA business some other will. If Bezos can use the CIA contracts to help Amazon be a better place to shop should we take advantage of that or try to punish Amazon by voting with our dollars?

    Damn it. Now I have to find another place to by toilet paper.