Thursday, June 19, 2008

Commerce, close to home

We've been urged to "Buy American!" for decades now. Our collective dedication to that principle waxes and wanes with the strength of the domestic economy, of course, but most of us still claim to be mindful -- if not always loyal.

And that's fine.

Truth is, it does the U.S. economy more long-term harm than short-term good when we buy inferior, overpriced or unnecessary goods simply because they're made here. Likewise, refusing to buy any product made in a particular country -- for some reason, China comes to mind -- strikes me as both misguided and futile.

As an independent citizen-patriot, sure, "Made in USA" matters to me. These days, however, I'm devoting my commercial attention even closer to home.

There may come a time when my closest neighbors and I will have to rely on each other completely for goods and services. As much as possible, then, I patronize local businesses, ideally independent shops in my township and town. My next preference is a 25-mile radius, followed by a 100-mile range and my state's borders.

Farmers' markets for baked goods, cheeses and produce that haven't crossed a county line, much less an ocean. The old barber shop in the center of the village, not the Mousse Mill in the strip mall. Breakfast at a diner owned by the grandson of the woman who opened it fifty years ago.

If a something needs fixing, I prefer a cramped hardware store to a cavernous home-improvement warehouse. There's a big-chain sporting-goods superstore five miles up the road and an independent gun shop 15 miles away, and if I need ammunition for a trip to the range, I'll choose the latter.

And so on.

Living this philosophy of personal commerce is an exercise in imperfection, and it does require forethought. I'm not inclined to drop the proverbial soap, though -- local shops still have to compete for my business, although generally I'll pay as much as 10% more to stay close to home. Lacking reasonable local options, I do buy some products via the Web.

In the context of global competitiveness, yes, it makes sense to buy American-made products. But when we draw our business even closer -- back home, where it belongs -- we strengthen our nation at its roots.

That's where we, the people, live.