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I enjoy discovering the many contradictory positions of folks that hold particular views, and that are not willing to follow the logical consistency of such views. Today’s edition comes from me thinking about the “Buy Local” movement and then thinking about the current fad in promoting “Green Jobs.”

The buy local crowd is quick to dismiss the advantages we moderns enjoy from specializing in a few activities and then taking advantage of this by exchanging with folks from the world over. They view this specialization as cruel and in their utopian world individuals would freely engage in different tasks. Ironically, the intensification of the division of labor has done just that. Rather than working from childhood to your death 6 days a week for 15 hours per day, the typical person now works well less than 40 hours, and not even all of that time is spent working (e.g. how many of my readers are at work right now, or should be studying right now?).  The reason for this increase in leisure time has been the massive increase in labor productivity as a result of specialization and the application of technology.

Here is where the pretzel twists. The advocates of green jobs programs cite working more and having lower labor productivity as a virtue of green jobs. Here is where it gets twistier. The buy local crowd thinks we can all live local and provide our energy using things like windmills, solar panels and other advanced technologies. However, none of those technologies would make any sense to produce if they could not be produced efficiently using less labor, and if they could not be produced on a massive scale and distributed to customers all around the globe. Do the locavores think that windmills and solar cells can be produced within even a 200-mile range of their preferred communities? We can’t even make a suit from within 100 miles of where we live.

One Response to “Twisty Environmental Pretzels”

  1. Harry says:

    When I was growing up, my mother bought local from a green grocer who came around in a truck with iceberg lettuce. The really good vegetables you grew, or had a friend who grew freshly-picked asparagus and green beans in exchange for ten bales of straw and a spreader or two of cow manure. After the first frost, it was BirdsEye for seven months, and we thought we were lucky to live in a time when you had a freezer compartment in the refrigerator.

    It could have been worse. We were only a few years away from when the icebox was common. And it could have been a whole lot worse in Marksburg Castle in 1323, when the six bales of straw would go up to the top to serve as the king’s bedding, and the serfs had to make do with organically-grown root vegetables and salted meat, if you could get it.

    Today we fuss about whether the fresh beans we buy in December have been fertilized with 10-10-10, or with cow manure of cows that have never eaten a mouthful of corn that has not been fertilized with the cow manure of other cows who ate corn with a little bit of Agway 20-10-10. You see where this regression is going — right back to Marksburg Castle.

    I’ts hard for me to get wistful about the good old days the further back you go. Why would anyone living in, say, Athol, Mass., want to go back to savor BirdsEye beans?

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