Saturday, January 23, 2016

Debunking the ‘Buy Local’ Myth

Whether it’s “Carnival is the greatest show on earth” or “God is a Trini”, or “T&T Police: to protect and serve”, Trinbagonians love repeating meaningless slogans. And there is one meaningless slogan which is now all the rage; “Buy local”. 

According to the “Buy local” sloganeers, we can have better food security and economic prosperity if we simply buy more locally made products. On the surface this seems like a good idea, and even rather patriotic. But this article will address the main points of the “Buy local” argument and will clearly demonstrate how claims that “Buy local” can cure our economic ills, makes as much sense as Trevor Sayers claiming to have a cure for being gay.

 Myth 1. Buying local keeps money local
No it doesn’t. First of all in a global economy, it’s difficult to categorize what exactly “local” is. A farmer might have planted and reaped his paw-paw and sweet pepper locally, but he more than likely used equipment, pesticides and machinery all made abroad. The same would go for other areas of local production. Local producers depend on foreign goods and services, and like the rest of us they take trips abroad, buy crap on Amazon and have Netflix accounts; therefore they simply won’t keep all their money local.

Secondly, for the sake of argument, let's say that local producers are able to spend all of their profits locally as well. This would not actually be a good thing; in fact it would be catastrophic. Many local businesses would not be able to stay open if they depended solely on other local suppliers and they would go bust. Without access to foreign trade the local market would shrink, resulting in less local production. In turn, supply of goods and services would be limited, creating sky high prices, less variety and product shortages.

Far from making us richer, if we all kept our money local we would be making ourselves poorer. This is not dissimilar to what happened in the socialist paradise of Venezuela, a country with significantly more oil and agricultural land than us, but where people are starving and don't have toilet paper. 

Myth 2. Buying local food is healthier
No it isn't. The buy local lobby loves to blame imported food for the rise in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in T&T. Doubles, KFC and having a river lime as a form of exercise of course plays no part. According to the buy local crowd, we would all be happier and healthier if we all just learned how to peel cassava, and eat more baigan.

Perhaps we would be, but we should be thankful that imported food is easy to access. That’s because it’s cheaper than local food and offers us more variety, hence more people benefit from it. If you think the cost of food is high now, just imagine if we can no longer access imported food. The price of things like local cassava and baigan would skyrocket.

The buy local lobby should remember that there is one country where people cannot access any imported food and have to rely solely on local agriculture. It’s called North Korea, and most people there are either grossly malnourished or starving.  

Myth 3. Buying local is better for the environment
No it isn't. The buy local lobby argue that the shorter the distance food takes to get to us, the better for the environment. But that argument completely ignores economies of scale. For example it is more environmentally sustainable for someone in England to buy lamb from New Zealand, than at their local butcher shop.

That's because New Zealand lambs are raised in vast pastures. English lambs on the other hand are raised in factory intensive conditions using far more energy and generating a much bigger carbon footprint. The energy used to produce lamb in England far exceeds the energy it takes to simply import it from New Zealand. The case of the New Zealand lamb is hardly an exception. Some farms across the world are far better at producing food efficiently than others, who otherwise could put their resources to better use.

Myth.4. People like Darryn Boodan who criticize “Buy local” are haters
No we are not haters. Well not entirely. We may reject the junk economics of the buy local lobby being peddled by socialists, hippies and crackpots at UWI. But we care about local farmers and local producers as much as anyone else.

The difference is that we believe real economic prosperity for all can only happen through credible economic policies, not by feeding people meaningless slogans.

1 comment:

NomisTT said...

I like to buy local whenever I could, just to support the local farmers, but everything you wrote here I cannot argue with. It's just simple economic facts. As long as there is a sound policy...but you know how UNC/PNM policies are.