People like to feel that they are making a positive difference in the world, even with their wallets. Conscientious consumerism entails buying goods that have positive ethical implications, such as what people mistakingly think of fair trade or organic products. Feelings of conscientious, ethical consumerism also surround the topic of local purchasing, which is more colloquially known as "buying local." For those who argue for buying locally, they'll mention that it's more environmentally sustainable because the products travel less miles. They'll use language like "buy from your neighbor" or "strengthen the community." You're buying from the "little guy" instead of an "evil corporation." It sounds quaint and homey to "buy local," but does it really work that way?
"Buy local" is unrealistic. If you are looking to buy products that are 100 percent local, then you're aiming for a nigh impossible goal. We live in such a global economy that any product or service you buy has benefited from non-local resources at some point during the supply chain. Local economies decidedly rely on non-local flow of money to keep local economies going. If you want to "buy local," be ready to return your computer, phone, clothes, and just about everything else you currently own from where you purchased it because they have been created with resources not in your locale. None of this considers that a franchise store can still be owned by a local entrepreneur. Does that not make the store "local" anymore? More to the point, what does "local" even mean? Does that refer to one's city? County? State? Country? If we want to take "buy local" to its logical conclusion, why don't we just apply it to our own family or household?
Free trade is better. How is a good intrinsically and objectively superior simply because it was 100 percent produced in your city? What does geographic proximity have to do with the quality of a good? Plus, could you imagine confining economic commerce to your city? I couldn't. There is no one city that can produce all goods. That is the beauty of free trade. Much like I brought up when I wrote about outsourcing, using comparative advantage, economies of scale, and specialization of labor provides us with a wider variety of goods and services while making sure we can get the best quality possible because we are using every resource possible. For much of human history, we "bought local." Because of channeling comparative advantage and specialization of labor, nothing has historically spurred economic growth or reduced global poverty more than free trade has. Think of the flow of goods, services, and ideas that we have access to as a result of free trade: coffee, spices, automobiles, phones, the list goes on. By allowing for freedom of trade, we have expanded our knowledge, tastes, product selection, and consumer preferences. We have improved upon the consumer experience as a result. Free trade is truly a mechanism for progress. It's no surprise that economists generally agree that free trade is good for the economy.
"Buy local" is inefficient. If free trade is the most efficient allocation of resources, then confining trade to one's locale is inefficient. It cannot be considered better for the environment since production accounts for the vast majority of the energy spent on food, not transportation. If we're talking about buying our food locally, specialization and trade matter even more because of endowment factors in certain regions. This is important because certain regions are more prime for agricultural production, which means more efficient usage of energy and resources. Additionally, if we don't allocate resources efficiently, food scarcities would cause food prices to rise, which would cause nutrition problems. If you want more examples of how people typically buy goods or services because they are of good value, not because they're "local," I can provide those. Try "buying locally" if you're trying to fight off a rare disease. Odds are you would want to find the most trained specialist you can afford so you can find a cure. How about college? Unless you happen to live in a city that has a low-cost, high-quality college in your field, you are most probably going to look at colleges in other parts of the country.
Postscript: Local markets play a role in the greater economy. After all, any corporation, enterprise, or business is going to be local for somebody. While it's possible that you can find good quality in your proximity, you shouldn't be cajoled or swayed by guilt or some false sense of community if you look for something better. "Buy local" is just a scaled-down version of protectionism, and we can't let our sentiments allow us to play favorites simply because of geographical proximity. "Buying local" is a facile way of thinking of the macroeconomic environment in which markets exist. If you want to "buy local" because you want to support your local business or you think their product is the best in the business, that's fine. Whether you ultimately decide to buy locally or globally, far be it from me to interfere in your voluntary economic transaction. However, if you think that your dollars are making a real difference in helping the economy or the environment, you might want to reconsider your consumption patterns to something more impactful.
For a good synopsis on the issue, please watch the video below.