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Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Why Buy Local

March 5th, 2007 by dk

I’m sympathetic with the “buy local” crowd. For almost a decade, I drove a car that was locally manufactured. How many can make that claim? I wish my grocery store told me how far a product traveled to reach 97405. I love to “buy direct” at Farmers Market or from local craftspeople. But I’m not a conventional “buy local” evangelist.

Truth alert: Local owners aren’t always the best owners. Some corporate stores give their managers permission to respond to local conditions. Some local owners pay poorly and subject workers to lousy conditions. I wish the local owners were always the best owners, but it’s not always so.

Here’s a “Buy Local” program I could support. Ignore who owns the company. When we say we want to keep our dollars working locally, we mean local wages to the people doing the work, who will then spend those wages locally. So focus on the wages to the workers (which may well include the owner.)

Show me only two numbers from a business’s quarterly taxes: gross payroll and gross receipts. Dividing the first number by the second tells me what percentage of my purchase goes to local wages. That number can and should be promoted to customers as a “local cents” program: “For every dollar you spend here, XX.X cents is returned in local wages.”

We can go further. If a business uses local vendors, it can ask that they show the same two numbers to our auditors for their own “local cents” rating. If a third of the vendor’s income is returned to local wages, then the business can claim one third of its payments to them as local wages.

This would set up the very best sort of competition between businesses, regardless of who owned them. Those who refused the simple (and confidential) audit would be treated with suspicion. Shoppers would be empowered, knowing exactly how many cents of every dollar they spent stayed in Lane County.

Any takers?

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