Thursday, July 30, 2009

Revisiting Loco Localism

Localism is a hot trend. Ideologically, I'm opposed to the movement. But the Economist reports there are some practical benefits:

Dan Houston, a partner at Civic Economics, says that in recent studies he has found that locally-owned businesses put about twice as much money back into the community as the chains do, not three times, as the Austin study found. But that is still enough of a “local multiplier” to catch people’s attention. Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Portland, Maine, reckons that some 30,000 local independents have joined about 130 independent business alliances around the nation.

As I would expect, the Economist ends on a snarky note. Color the newspaper skeptical. The problem isn't the promotion of local buying. It's the out-of-hand rejection of chains. Let the consumer punish Walmart at the cash register. Of course, nothing wrong with educating residents and helping them to make a more informed decision.

In terms of economic development, "locals first" is fraught with peril. Troubles start when the perspective becomes a cure-all. That cuts both ways, but autarky strikes me as the greater danger.

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