Kurt's Blog

January 12, 2017

Do I support local businesses?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kurt Häusler @ 12:40 pm

It seems like one of the trendy ideas is to support local businesses. I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon and have been mildly criticized for doing so. At the time I responded defensively but the reality is of course more nuanced. At a philosophical level I find “preferring to shop locally” to be very similar to nationalism or even racism. The idea that someone is more deserving of my business merely because they are from the same area, speak the same language, and look similar doesn’t sit right with me. In fact if I look at the world today I would claim the opposite. If I look at comparative standards of living across the world I would think the relatively poorer shop owner or service provider in South America, Africa, Eastern Europe or Southern Asia deserves my business more than the rich German over the road.

And of course as someone who actually lives in a country other than that in which he was born I am the foreigner. I wouldn’t like to think someone refuses to do business with me in favor of a “true local”. I also wouldn’t like to think people in other countries, especially in fellow EU countries, don’t want to do business with me simply because of where I am located.

So much for the theory. In a practical sense, I don’t like going to shops. I don’t like the over the top attempts to trick me into spending money with color choices, background music and even smells. I feel bombarded and almost overwhelmed with the pressure to consume. I dislike that I can never find the thing I want and am forced to make compromises and pay 3x the price for the privilege.

Having said that, I buy the following things locally:

  • Groceries
  • Shirt cleaning services
  • Fast food
  • Experiences rather than products, e.g. attending events
  • Very small cheap things that I need urgently
  • Things that might get broken easily in the post

Everything else I order online from wherever it is cheapest. This includes both products and services. I think in doing so I am performing a social service.

Where businesses choose to do their work is exactly the same. I always cringe when nationalists complain that a new factory is set up in another, usually disadvantaged country. It is good to support workers in poorer countries isn’t it? Or when racists complain about e.g. Indian workers “replacing” white workers in North America or Eastern Europeans “replacing” Western Europeans. It is how equilibriums work. Rich countries in general have a high demand and low supply of labor, whereas poorer countries have the opposite. That is why it is possible to save money by investing in people from these countries which makes prices lower for end-consumers.

To be more concrete, I have a lot in common with the average Slashdot reader, but one area in which I differ completely is in their anti-competitive stance against the foreign programmer. Especially the H1B Indian programmer. It always makes me cringe to see very well paid people up in arms because people from a foreign country are just trying to lift themselves out of a subsistence economy into a modern knowledge based economy, and help fill the capacity shortage we have in IT.

The other example that comes to mind are those in the UK, who never voted Brexit, but were always harping on about “buying UK”. They are complaining now, but why were they never chanting “buy EU”?

Everyone (well not me) claims to be a trendy leftist, socialist these days. I thought part of that was “international worker solidarity” or something, but as soon as it comes to foreign workers they ignore that completely and revert to a nationalist, protectionist stance: “them foreigners are stealin mah jerb!”

Of course I am biased, as someone who had the opportunity to live and work in another country it makes sense. What I really don’t understand is how people in a similar position to me can have such nationalist positions and criticize the very labor mobility that enabled them to live overseas in the first place.

I am proud to be a globalist rather than a nationalist.

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