Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Let's keep it suboptimal

Last week while visiting the wonderful city of Seattle, I spotted a delivery truck with an unfortunate message painted broadly across its side. The truck was a produce delivery truck and the message was apparently an intentional advertising slogan. It read, "Let's Keep It Local!" I didn't have time to take a picture. Presumably based on the other advertising art this is a local fruit and vegetable company.

I have to admit my first reaction was a little hostile. My thoughts were: Will they sell to me? What if I plan to take it back to Oklahoma? At the Pike Place Market I purchased an extra honey crisp apple and mango with the intention of taking them home. What a shame it would be if those purchases had been prohibited based on my intentions to eat them abroad. But I'm sure the localizers do not care about my consumption venue, or that I can peel an apple in one long, curry strip. It is only the production origin that concerns them; I can imagine them saying. But that just leads to more questions:

  • You're okay with exports, but you don't like imports? 
  • So, you're saying you'd like to have your apple cake and eat it too? 
  • Does it concern you that such a scheme will lead to your own wealth being reduced? 
Did I lose them with that last one? It is the mantra of the local movement that by "keeping it local" we keep both sides of the exchange--notice the "we" here, and remember there is no "we". We is an arbitrary fiction. It implies at some point people stop being one of "us" and start being one of "them". Such xenophobia is not just morally unhealthy. It is economically destructive--itself a moral wrong.

If you eat your own apple cake, you then won't have one left over. If you (import and) eat mine, you still have yours. All I ask is that you give me something you value less than the cake but that I value more than my cake. Like perhaps a Locks tour from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington. This is the essence of gains from trade. These gains expand as the market expands--as more of "them" become "us".