My former boss–the best boss I had when I wasn’t working for myself–just posted this to Facebook. Other friends are passing around various status updates that tell us all to buy locally, eschewing retail outlets in favour of local craftspersons. It’s that time of year, when sales are ramping up for the holidays and everybody from the giant mega corporations to the lowly crochet maven on Etsy wants a piece of the pie.
I guess that means it’s time for me to say this all in one coherent piece in one place.
Consumer decisions are just that. They are a personal decision about where and what you should buy, eat, wear, do. Some consumer decisions are intrinsically moral. No, you shouldn’t buy stolen goods from your cousin Robbie. No, you shouldn’t shoot your neighbours’ cats instead of joining a shooting range.
But many other choices are just that. They’re a choice without a moral center. I am increasingly irritated at the various movements designed to elevate one sort of shopping over another. (Or in the case of “Don’t Shop–Adopt” to demonise shopping entirely.)
There is nothing intrinsically morally better about buying stationery from your neighbour’s cousin Faith-Anne’s collection of hand-pulped artisan paperie than from the Hallmark down the street. You can pat yourself on the back for supporting a local business of course. But let’s take a look at your OTHER neighbour. We’ll call her Kathy. Kathy works at a local business, because (like most people) she can not afford to commute five hours every morning and evening to a job in another state. Her local business employs 83 people other than herself. It gives all of those 84 people paychecks and health insurance and the occasional bagels on Friday mornings. They design stationery that is printed in factories on the other side of the state or in China. That stationery is shipped to the company’s warehouse, which is ANOTHER local business that employs ANOTHER forty people. Those people unpack the boxes, enter the data into the computer and repack them to reship them to Wal-Mart. The Wal-mart that is five miles from your house and Kathy’s house and Faith-Anne’s cousin’s house employs 213 people for round-the-clock staffing. Those people all live pretty close to you too. One of them unpacks the box from Kathy’s company’s warehouse. Another rings up the sale of the box into the register. Another in the office upstairs tracks the sales and reconciles the day’s receipts.
All business is local. All purchases are local. Even purchases from Amazon involve a local transaction that employs at least three local people. How else do you think the products make it TO YOUR HOUSE?
All business is human.
Chain stores or local artisans, it doesn’t matter. One is not a sinner, casting the other one as a saint. They are just choices.
This holiday season feel free to buy from whatever place gives you what you want at the price you want to pay for it. Ultimately the person you have to live with is not Kathy or Faith-Anne’s cousin or the UPS guy who drops off your packages from Amazon. It’s you. So do what works for you and your family.