johnsu01 (johnsu01) wrote,
johnsu01
johnsu01

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Chicago Day 2: Buy global?

Today we found a Target and went to it.

Nice thing about these Anytown, USA stores --- they make adjusting to a new location a lot easier. No need to track down various local stores for things, just look up the store that has it all and go there. I guess the reason this makes adjusting to a new place easier is that it is actually a way to not do any adjusting, save for locating the store (Google Maps failed again, by the way --- why do people think Google is good again?) and figuring out how to get there. But when you have limited time, like when you have to return your rental car that day and there is some big stuff that needs to be bought and transported, this convenience is a big plus.

I do wish the economy weren't this way, but it is. I'm not sure about the wisdom of the whole buy local thing anymore. Once I get to know an area, I usually end up shopping at the local businesses, but I think that's usually because they do things better in some way. Their food is better, or their limited selection of books is interesting as a collection itself, and fun to browse. Or the people that work there are a little more interested in what they are doing and more capable of giving suggestions about things, and maybe they even remember me and what I like. I nearly always buy local conventional produce over organic stuff from far away, because it's better environmentally.

But in many cases now, the local business does a worse job. I'm not talking about price; I'm willing to pay higher prices for many things, and for a lot of reasons other than "I can afford it." There is no free lunch. If you are getting a deal, it's because someone --- most likely you --- is getting scammed. Think you're getting a deal at Wal-Mart? First you better count the ways in which your tax dollars are flowing to Wal-Mart (start by reading the part of their employee manual that instructs new employees on how to apply for federal assistance, since Wal-Mart doesn't pay enough to live on), or the ways in which Wal-Mart is blocking a channel for localities to collect revenue that they then need to find from some other source. Or, see how long those discount store products actually last, and how often you end up replacing them. Or, see how often you end up buying a bunch of crap you don't need and so actually spend more (the buy 2 get 1 free effect).

Local businesses aren't keeping up with preferences. Local cafes always frustrate me because most that I've tried don't have soy milk, except in some real crunchy towns. That's missing out on a big market. The monstrous chain that is kicking all of your asses right now sells an awful lot of soy. The Starbucks at the oasis off the Ohio Turnpike sells soy milk. I'm sorry if it's grown to be an annoying yuppie thing, but fact is that a lot of people into supporting local businesses do so because they are concerned about the impact of mega-capitalism on the environment, and many of those people know that the dairy industry is a government-sponsored mega-capitalist environmental catastrophe. Also, hire some people who know what they are doing. I worked at a locally owned cafe for 3 years. We served soy milk, sent people to barista training courses, and the end result was great coffee and service, and great tips for the employees.

That's just a small example. Local bookstores who don't host community readings or display books by local authors are in the same boat. Turns out most of the time in my experience, it is Borders or Barnes & Noble doing these things, and not the local store. Local stores aren't competing on their localness, and somehow they are often losing out in the quality department as well. How you can manage to make a worse espresso than Starbucks is beyond me, but plenty of people do.

I spend my dollars with an agenda in mind. I try to create a market signal that will encourage people to do more of what I like and want, and less of what I don't like. Spending money is a form of communication. We've reached a point where in many cases, the best way for me to send a good signal is to not purchase from the local business. How did we get here?

There is the argument that I shouldn't give money to the chains no matter what, and if local businesses aren't providing a competing product, I should just not buy the product. I'll give that some more thought, but I'm troubled in cases where the big chain tries something new related to something I care about, like offering vegetarian options on their menu or cooperating with the formation of an employee union. What then? The idea that I will be able to bring down mega-capitalism with my dollars is really starting to feel outmoded. Is it instead time to jump aboard and try to manipulate their micro-data-gathering methods to shift things in a positive direction?

Tags: capitalism, chicago, coffee, diary, environment, globalization
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