Though his points are thought-provoking and well-researched, I think Blanchard is not quite right on this issue.
Blanchard rightly points out that when we buy products produced, for example, in Chile, we help Chilean families. There is no moral difference, he suggests, between supporting local American producers or supporting distant Chilean ones.
But we have to ask deeper questions. No doubt some Chileans or Angolans or Bangladeshis benefit from exporting goods to the U.S., but to what extent does our globalized economy, dominated as it is by large multinational corporations, really benefit the people of developing nations? Is it really beneficial for the economies of these nations to focus on exporting goods to the U.S. or Europe, rather than on developing their own abilities to feed their own people? I think it's clear that a focus on developing local infrastructure and levels of self-sufficiency in developing nations is in the best long-term interests of those countries.
At the end of his article, Blanchard does admit to one clear good of the local economy: “you are buying good food from people you know.” He touches here on a key point to the ethical good of buying local: It fosters personal relationships between producer and consumer.
When we buy that product produced in China, we are totally disconnected from how it was produced, and so we usually put little thought into the environmental or working conditions under which that product was made, though given China's human rights record, we might guess that the conditions are less than ideal. Likewise, the multinational corporations have little incentive to promote better environmental or working conditions. After all, they don't live there.
When we interact face to face in the local economy, in contrast, both consumer and producer are more accountable to one another, since we have a tangible, personal relationship.
Obviously, it's impossible to run a modern society through local economies alone. A small local economy would not have the resources, for example, to build a car or computer, items I personally would be very reluctant to give up. Large corporations can deliver goods efficiently and at low cost. (I must admit to spending far more at Wal-Mart than at our farmers' market.)
But even the global market can be brought down to a more human level. Here in Aberdeen the example of Dan and Kileen Cleberg, owners of the Red Rooster Coffee Shop, comes to mind. They have made the extra effort to travel to Santa Anita, Guatemala, to develop a personal relationship with the growers of their coffee beans, a cooperative formed by 32 families.
No, buying local won't save the planet, but it's arguably a good step in the right direction.
Martin Albl teaches religious studies at Presentation College. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.