I typically enjoy reading articles about local currencies, local farms, buying local, etc. – they are choc full of economic nonsense that make for great teaching. But every once in a while a piece comes along that demonstrates the anti-humanity of the community-minded folks who often support such ideas.
Note that I celebrate the use of local currency, local farming, etc. so long as it is voluntarily chosen, and so long as my tax dollars are not used to support entities that would otherwise not exist. But I simply cannot let the smug superiority of many of the folks behind such movements pass me by – while these movements on their face seem to be nice, Americana-type ideas, they are often covers for something far uglier than a Normal Rockwell painting.
Buying Local – For example, if you closely examine the “buy local” movement – you hear urgings for the natives of Pittsfield to do business with the local hardware store, or local furniture craftsman. In one sense you might view this as supporting a neighbor (by the way, how many people locally that you do business with do you actually know either?). In another, quite real, sense, urging me to do business with a furniture maker in Pittsfield is like urging me NOT to do business with the furniture maker in southern Vermont. Or better yet, it is like urging me not to do business with a furniture maker in North Carolina … or China. Are these people not worthy of our patronage? Are they themselves not part of communities and deserving of support? What if they located where they were by mere chance and luck (like many people argue about our births)? Arguing that I should support the furniture maker in Pittsfield makes it easy to feel symapthy for the Pittsfield furniture maker … but what always goes unseen are the millions of people that will not get our business if we make that choice. Note, I am not saying that you should not make the choice – but the preachy, moralistic case to do so is simply inconsistent and anti-human.
Local Farming – much the same analysis applies here. I enjoy having my home be near open and rolling farmland. I enjoy eating fresh fruits and vegetables in season from these same farms. But I do not believe any of these “local” farmers have any more of a right to my business than do non-local farmers; nor do I believe that this farmland “ought” to be in our community if people are not willing to pay to keep the land this way. Once again, urging me to purchase locally grown fruits is nice, until you think about the flip side – it is the same thing as urging me NOT to support the local farmers from other communities. This again seems downright anti-human to me.
Local currencies – this is why I decided to write this post. In this article on local currencies such as the Berkshares, I read the following quote:
But advocates say that it’s not the scale of the program that makes it important. It’s about the connections that form around it.
“The bigger effect of BerkShares is the conversations it’s elicited,” Witt says.
“It’s a way to network and have healthy conversations about money,” Burke says. “Ithaca Hours acts as money, but there is something beyond that.”
“It creates camaraderie,” he says. “When someone comes into my store … if they pay with a check or a credit card, we don’t talk. But when someone uses Ithaca Hours, you start a conversation.” (my emphasis added)
So you need a particular form of payment to “form community?” Seriously? If I pull out a check to make a payment, a payment drawn on account at a local bank, you will not talk to me. But if I pull out a funnily colored piece of paper to execute the same transaction, taking perhaps even less time to complete the transaction, suddenly I am worthy of your countenance? That seems awfully anti-human to me. What’s next, you will only talk to people that look a certain way, or wear a particular local uniform? Where is the humanity in that? I’d like to support these local currencies and other movements … but when I think about the majority of folks that are involved with them I cringe – and their smug self-righteous attitudes as they talk about community tend to drive me away from wanting to deal with them. Am I not a good enough person to befriend or talk to if I decide to do business with a debit card (it is more convenient after all)? Am I the devil when I buy corn grown from a Floridian farmer?