Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tribalism and locavorism

I have responded to this post by John Quiggin.  Here is my response:

It sounds to me that there are sufficient problems with the PD&HS not to take it too seriously. In this arena, as with nuclear power, I feel John is letting the pro-bigs off too easily with something that merely sounds like engineering. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid local food simply because by some strained and incomplete calculations—and under certain special circumstances—it might involve more CO2 emissions. Under the condition that local and remote energy use were the same, and the in-country transport the same (likely favors local in central USA), the ship travel CO2 is additive, not necessarily large, but still additive. Long distance travel by ship also involves the construction and maintenance of ships, ports, etc.
OTOH, there probably isn’t that big a deal, with regard to the transportation costs, of buying imported food, and I’d love the idea of eating free range hormone and antibiotic free imported meats when and if I could not get them locally (and prepared locally…that’s the hangup for me, I don’t spend time to prepare big meals for myself, so I end up eating only what others prepare at nearby restaurants).
But this is so not the only issue. One of the issues often mentioned is food security. If all my food needs to be imported 5,000 miles from countries that in the future mine may not have good relations with, among other possible scenarios in which long distrance trade can break down, that’s one reason to prefer locality.
Another issue is that of economic development and regress. If we let other countries do all the farming, we lose our ability to do so, which might be useful in the future.
And a third is that, in principle, with more local food you may be able to ensure that what is being advertised is what you are getting. Adam Smith himself talks about this advantage in locality.
And a fourth is the one of injecting money into a local economy rather than a distant one. One argument could be that there is no greater altruism (and perhaps less) in supporting someone locally than distant. But this suffers from the problem #3 that we don’t really know who and what is involved. But here I might as well choose to consider self-interest. Injecting money in a local economy is more likely to be beneficial to me directly, reducing local unemployment, etc.
This is one of those areas where people would best do different things. Some people buy local while others buy distant. We shouldn’t be trying to turn economies into monocultures. That’s risky and unwise.
But that appears to be exactly what PD&HS don’t want. They seem to want you just to go along with what the buyer at your local supermarket chooses—typically on the basis of highest profit for the store. Their increased profit may come from reducing other money available in the local economy.

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