Buying Local, Trade, and Protectionism

I always buy locally-made products…unless I can find non-locally-made products of the same quality for a lower price.

“Buying local” is one of the current trends in our culture. Various companies and brands craft entire marketing campaigns around the fact that their products are produced locally, made out of local materials, and/or created with local labor. Now, why would the fact that a company is selling “local” products be persuasive and enticing to consumers?

One potential explanation would be that local consumers buy into a variation of “protectionism” on a smaller, local scale.* This explanation would argue that local consumers want to support their community and facilitate economic wellbeing within the local business environment by shopping primarily or exclusively at local dealers. This might be more of an emotional situation where consumers not only buy a product, but also purchase a good feeling of sorts.**

One of the problems with this line of thinking is the same problem that large-scale protectionism faces. When considering the economic well-being of a certain area, one must look at both the producer and consumer side of things. Buying local products at a higher price (and from my experience these locally made and marketed products tend to be more pricey) may benefit certain local producers but it also hurts local consumers (including you). If a whole bunch of consumers buys overpriced, locally-made coffee, the local coffee shop benefits at the expense of the five consumers.*** Therefore, it is difficult to argue that the local community is better off on net.

And why should local producers be my primary concern? Not to say that I should intend to hurt my community, but this sort of thinking can have the effect of hurting many foreign (or non-local) producers. Think of producers many states away who are efficiently producing cheaper, equal quality goods. Why should I turn away their products, which are of equal quality and a lower price?

Competition and trade forces producers to innovate and cater to consumers. Therefore, consumers should want as much trade as possible and as many product options as possible. This forces producers to use their time and resources in the most effective way possible. If local producers know that I will buy their goods because I am emotionally motivated to support them, then those producers will not be worried about their non-local competition and will be less likely to innovate, produce quality goods, and charge low prices. While this is a much smaller scale example, the “buy local” marketing scheme is similar to an import tariff in that it attempts to limit local consumption of non-local goods.

Now some might say that it saves resources to buy local. And this may or may not be the case. Dr. Arnold Kling in his recent book Specialization and Trade: A Re-Introduction to Economics argues that buying local can actually waste resources:

“Many people believe intuitively that it saves resources to “buy local.” Surely, we think, cheese or vegetables from a local farm must save on the energy required for transportation. However, if the grocery store sells cheaper products that comes from hundreds of miles away, some factor must offset the higher transportation costs. Chances are, the land elsewhere is more suited to growing crops, so that fewer acres are being used to produce a given amount of output. The local land might be better used for housing or as wilderness.
Water or other resources may be used more heavily locally than on distant farms. Whenever produce from distant farms is cheaper than locally grown produce, the price system is telling us that “buying local” wastes resources.”

So next time you are tempted to buy a product merely because it is locally-made, consider the bigger picture. Look into non-local options and try to use your purchasing power to support producers who make the highest quality product in the most efficient way possible. Don’t discriminate against high quality, cost-effective producers just because they live far away from you.

//

If this post resonates with you or irritated you, leave a comment below and tell me what you think of it. You can always send me an email as well; I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

//

*Ironically, one of the most startling side effects of protectionism is that a significant portion of local producers is actually harmed by this type of behavior. Every dollar spent subsidizing the inefficiencies of one producer is a dollar that could have been spent supporting the innovative and efficient ones.

**The price that consumers pay for “local” goods could potentially involve a base price, which would be identical to the price of the product elsewhere, plus a premium to support the local market. This premium portion of the price would then be similar to a charitable contribution in the sense that the only benefit the consumer receives for this added cost is a good feeling for having “supported” the local community.

***How do producers benefit at the expense of consumers? After all, this is voluntary trade, which should be mutually beneficial. The key here is that consumers do benefit, but they could benefit even more by buying a less expensive product of equal quality elsewhere. Thus, this transaction is at least somewhat inefficient, because consumers bear an extra cost without a corresponding benefit.

Death & Poetry Part 4: Death Be Not Proud

(Note: this is the fourth and final post about Poetry and Death based on a research project that I recently finished for my Medical Humanities class in Fall 2016. This post analyzes “Holy Sonnet X: Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne and attempts to highlight how this poem enables readers to cope with death. I hope that you will find this post interesting and thought provoking.)

John Donne, in his poem “Sonnet X: Death Be Not Proud” expresses explicit religious beliefs as the basis for his view of death. Where Dickinson hints at religious beliefs, Donne overtly states his beliefs and derives significant hope and courage from these views. In the past “people seemed to believe in God unquestionably; they believed in a hereafter, which was to relieve people of their suffering and their pain. There was a reward in heaven, and if we had suffered much here on earth we would be rewarded after death” (Kübler-Ross 13). Belief in God and an afterlife softens death’s blow and has the potential to give individuals like Donne significant confidence.

Donne portrays death as arrogant and argues for an attitude of confident hope in the face of death’s misguided pride. He seems to believe that if humans face death “with a kind of stoicism, death will meet with a natural death” (Patel 261). Donne does not fail to recognize death’s ferocious effect on many individuals, after all, “the very idea of death makes each and every creature of the world terror stricken. They try their best to escape death” (Patel 261). Yet, the poet’s prescribed remedy is to recognize God’s power over death, which renders death braggadocious but weak.

Beginning this poem, Donne writes, “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so” (Lines 1-2). Determined to pull no punches, the speaker, from the start, states his intentions and challenges death’s sense of power. Continuing, the poet says, “For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow / Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me” (Lines 3-4). Hinting at eternal life, Donne notes that those who die actually continue to exist. Accordingly, death cannot really kill anybody.

Donne makes an interesting argument in the following lines, “From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, / Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow” (Lines 5-6). Here he makes the claim that if rest and sleep are pictures of death and bring some level of enjoyment, then death cannot be too significantly terrible. Unpacking this argument, the speaker says, “And soonest our best men with thee do go, / Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery” (Lines 7-8). Death facilitates rest, the end of labor, and the transportation of the soul into eternal life.

Continuing his systematic dismantling of death’s sense of power, Donne argues that death serves others, meaning it has no reason for pride. He writes, “Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, / And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell” (Lines 9-10). In these lines the speaker points out that death’s achievements depend on these various agents. Further more death has to obey “the decree of these masters of death. Actually they summon death and order it to take away the life of the human beings” (Patel 263). To summarize these lines, Donne “boldly rejects the mightiness, powerfulness, and dreadfulness [of death]. He merely considers death a slave of destiny” (Patel 262).

In the next lines Donne compares death with drugs and argues that drugs do death’s job, only better. He says, “And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well / And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?” (Lines 11-12). The poet thunderously concludes this poem by stating that everybody will wake from death eventually, rendering death dead. He writes, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die” (Lines 13-14).

As far as the structure of this poem goes, it reads much like a discourse or a challenge. Each attack builds on the previous one, with the apparent attempt to break death’s pride. Unlike the previous two poems that accentuated the disruptive nature of death and used disjointed rhyme and rhythm schemes, this poem comes across as controlled and calculated. Interestingly, Donne personifies death, similar to Dickinson’s method, but to a very different effect.

In summary Donne encourages his readers to have confidence in the face of death, for death’s power is an illusion. He goes on to methodically explain exactly why death has no power and ultimately, his basis for these statements is a belief in God and eternal life. If life continues after death, Donne asks us, why fear death?

 

For further reading, check out the following sources:

Donne, John. “Holy Sonnet X (Death Be Not Proud).” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

Patel, Ramesh B. “Re-Critiquing/Redefining The Nature Of Death: A Study Of John Donne’s ‘Death Be Not Proud’.” International Journal Of Multidisciplinary Approach & Studies 2.2 (2015): 261-264. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

//

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something from it. I’d love to hear what you have to say, so feel more than welcome to leave a comment or shoot me an email. Thanks for reading!