Supporting local businesses is a form of citizenship and patriotism. We are encouraged to buy locally in order to patronize the entrepreneurs living in our city. This is a weightier issue in 2018 as globalization and online ordering become the norm. Local consumerism is the topic of this post and I hope to figure out if it’s a worthwhile cause to support by the end of this post.
I see the value in shopping locally for not just the concept of citizenship but because I cut back on the carbon footprint on the products which I purchase. Making the majority of my purchases through Amazon is unsustainable consumerism and something I have been able to minimize the past few years.
In this post I’ll talk about the traditional consumer mentality – the shopping mentality. For the financially savvy physician this is a moot point since we spend on average what most people save a year.
The traditional consumer:
- buys for reasons of status
- spends to experience retail therapy
- tries to own as much as possible to offset their mortal existence
- buys a product to solve a life problem
- spends in order to buy happiness
This traditional consumer also price shops – a lot. They look at a product in the store, turn on their phone and compare the price on Amazon and makes the purchase decision based on that.
They might even scoff at the price, shocked that this store would be trying to rip them off. This person goes home and orders the product online instead.
The local business then will eventually close its doors because you weren’t willing to pay $20 for the headphones but were willing to pay $12 for it on Amazon.
I was at a vegan grocery store yesterday on a date and came across 2 interesting prices. One was a wedge of vegan cheese made by a local company which sold for $12. The other was a vegan wrap made by another local company which this grocery store was selling for 40% more than I would have paid at the larger grocery store chains in Portland.
Consumerism is patriotic, so much so that it was impressed upon us to spend in order to kickstart the economy again in 2008. Apparently saving our money with various banks was a bad idea since the government had to bail them out.
Living the anti-consumer lifestyle is looked down upon.
There are various descriptors used in our society to describe such selfish or pauper individuals. Those who refuse to work and essentially freeload.
Working is one of the biggest forms of consumerism – you have to commute, dine out, buy scrubs, pay for medical licenses, pay for malpractice insurance, disability insurance, consult lawyers, etc.
Not to mention, our entire modern economic models depend on consumerism. Military budgets are the largest because we need them to overpower a weaker country, secure cheap resources such as labor and fossil fuels. And even though we are going away from this violent form of globalization, we are still disrupting other economies through propaganda and digital warfare.
I doubt that some brown dude wants to blow my ass up in the US unless this country went and did something to his country – such as disrupting its economy in order to secure cheap material to make more electronic gadgets which if course I am fueling by wanting to buy more of it and by wanting to stay up on the latest tech trend.
It’s such legacies which we leave behind as consumers.
Consumerism & Debt
There is a very strong bond between consumerism and debt. With the invention of the 30 year mortgage many of us have no choice but to go under a debt in order to own a home. Doctors earn enough money in one year to buy a house in cash but since we too are consumers, we choose instead to pay 10x our net income for a house and take on a 30-year mortgage debt.
We don’t own debt, debt owns us. Debt is a time obligation unless all your income is earned passively.
You’re not a free being when someone else owns your time. You might feel free because society doesn’t consider debt taboo. A similar analogy is a woman who is indebted to her husband for income. The concept of marriage which very commonly mirrors ownership is not taboo so women enter such arrangements willingly and in fact feel a sense of accomplishment for having done so. The reward usually is popping out a few kids.
Traditional consumerism and traditional debt is bad and that’s something hard to express in a blog post, even in a behemoth one such as this.
The concept of money is quite interesting and tons of books have been written on it. From a psychological perspective it’s a tough concept to master if you’re not already inherently frugal.
Debt, especially large debt, is probably the best way to keep a consumer consuming. The more debt we have the more likely we are to go into further debt and the less likely we are to curb our spending.
Consumerism Driving the Economy
Let’s start at the very beginning. The government prints dollars on hi-tech paper and sells bonds to individuals and countries to ‘back’ the paper currency. If nobody buys the bonds then it means that nobody believes in the business entity that is the USA and the country would go bankrupt – the dollar would lose its value.
The business entity that is the USA also collects revenue in form of taxes and markets and protects its borders aggressively.
I had to pay money to be educated and I had to pay money to be licensed as a physician in order to practice and earn money. I need money because that’s the only form of understanding the value of a traded item.
We all trust the dollar which is why we have all accepted it. We don’t trust cryptocurrency which is why most doctors wouldn’t accept it as a form of payment.
The value of the dollar and our trust in it is quite arbitrary. The US government as a business entity is completely broke and no sane economist believes that it is ever capable of paying back its debt. What’s most important is that we collectively believe in the US dollar – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a sustainable model.
The government is a business and needs money to operate. It can’t just keep printing more paper dollars to run itself because then the value of the dollar will be nothing compared to the rest of the world. So it needs to collect back some of the money through taxes, fees, and business income.
The Big Money Makers
Violence is our best money-maker. Punishment and teaching are also quite lucrative.
Our military makes a lot of money for us as we bully the rest of the world. Policing, followed by punishment, is another great money-maker and of course the prison system is a damn gold mine. Tickets, fines, punishments, jail sentences, investigations, and all sorts of other schemes keep our government functioning. Most importantly they create jobs.
Create a problem – design a system to solve it – hire individuals to work in that system – collect taxes from those individuals and you have a way of printing money and then get it back from the same individuals through taxes and of course through consumerism.
In many cities the main industry is government employment. If that’s not a Ponzi scheme then what is? There would be no governor, no police, no fire department, no schools, and therefore no licensing agency for businesses if it wasn’t for the money coming in through taxes to pay for the people who are employed in that town. And then those people pay taxes to pay for their own wages. Stay with me.
I need to buy groceries and I will use my earned money to pay for them and get taxed about 10%. I work for a company who pays me a salary in the form of money and I pay taxes on that in form of income taxes.
I also need to pay for the elderly in my society by paying taxes into social security and medicare. We don’t have a sustainable society where people can stand up on their own 2 feet – others have to step in.
Consumerism appears to be absolutely necessary to run this economy. I need to work and earn money and spend it in order to pay for taxes to pay for wars to secure more and cheaper resources and to continue to grow the business entity that is the country I live in.
All that said, my spending and earning isn’t actually going towards growing a viable business, right? It’s important to understand the whole concept of countries. Each is a business and each has borders the same way Walmart has walls and parking lots which mark its perimeter. You as a consumer get to choose where you shop. You can live in the US and earn and spend there or you can go somewhere else.
If you need groceries then you have to either shop at Trader Joe’s, Fred Meyer’s, Whole Foods, or Walmart. You could try to grow your own but to fully sustain your life with homegrown groceries would be a massive undertaking. It’s not the fairytale stories you see on YouTube – you’d need to grow in the growing season, learn to can and preserve for the colder seasons, and you would have to get through droughts or other disasters which might wipe out your crop.
So even though you could go completely off-grid it’s perhaps wiser to develop a balance where you are growing some of your own things and buying the rest directly from the farmer.
The truly wise household will do more bartering than spending. Why the hell would they go through the extra unnecessary step of exchanging paper when they can do a 1:1 trade. I will treat your broken finger and you will fix my teeth. I will help you stay healthy and you will maintain my lawn. I will treat your psoriasis and you will fix my bicycle.
When you spend in order to drive the economy, you aren’t driving the economy, you are playing your part in the Ponzi scheme which couldn’t work without you. That’s why so many people get angry and accuse you of being unpatriotic when you don’t partake in this game. It’s messing up their flow.
Many individuals have banked on social security and if they see me not working then their retirement becomes threatened. They spent most of what they earned and then some over the years hoping that the next generation will cover their ass.
Many ate what they wanted, stressed themselves out to the point of a heart attack or cancer, and gained as much weight as they could fit in a chair hoping that someone else is going to pay for Medicare to bail them out.
These aren’t bad people, just individuals who weren’t taught to be live sustainable lives. Their parents didn’t teach them how to think globally, act responsibly, understand consequences, and not just be a citizen of the US but of the earth.
It becomes a forced barter system where I must trade my time in this society for more income in order to keep others safe in their retirement.
So, we have the economy where I’m growing some food in my garden, I’m buying the rest from a local farmer, and I’m bartering some of my expertise for the services of others. Don’t make that face, it’s not that weird. I’m not flipping goats here. I’m just saying that the economy, the real economy, doesn’t need me to spend in order for it to thrive.
A Sustainable Economy
Why would the farmer give a rat’s ass if I buy a lot more corn from him? If I don’t buy it then someone else would. In a healthy economy there is no waste. But in a Ponzi scheme there has to be food waste for the industry of farming to be as lucrative as it is.
Why would I care if more and more people are sick in a real, healthy economy? That would just mean more work for me. And I don’t want more work because I don’t want more money to buy more corn, or more goats. I am living my life, going for strolls, reading wonderful books, enjoying other people’s arts, hanging out with friends, and playing my sports – I don’t want to have to work more to have more money to consume more shit.
Ergo, ‘spending’ to fuel the economy is a big fat lie like the ones I would tell when I was a kid and got caught doing something wrong.
Money isn’t evil and being a consumer isn’t evil. But fueling the Ponzi scheme and being a consumer are bad moves for everyone. The less we can rely on spending in order to live our lifestyles in this society the more good we’ll do for the world.
I’m embarrassed and devastated by the fact that my spending directly contributes to the misery of others on this planet. Enough to get rid of my car, to not use batteries in the house, and to not travel too much by plane. But not enough to get rid of my computer or do away with my cell phone. It’s a work in progress.
I’m not going to hire a plumber from 5 cities away or from China – that wouldn’t make any sense. Sadly I would do so if their travel costs expenses were subsidized by the government, enough so that the traveling plumber would cost me less than the local one.
Ideally I would look for the plumber who lives closest to me and whom I trust because of word-of-mouth. If his work isn’t up to par then I know where to find him and he can come back to do the job right which helps me out and helps him. He becomes a better plumber because he got to see why his work failed instead of me getting another plumber to fix the first plumber’s work.
If I shop at a local farmer’s market then I get to establish a relationship with farmer who lives in my community. They eat and shit in my community so it’s in their best interest to take care of the people who live around them. If my farmer decided to use really poor farming techniques or dangerous pesticides then she would ruin the health and lives of everyone around her including herself. It’s not in her best interest to have the doctor in her community sitting on the toilet shitting out his guts because she didn’t know how to properly handle her produce.
The Vegan Grocery Store
If I walk into the vegan grocery store and don’t pay a premium for this local shop owner to bring everything vegan under one roof then I’ll run this person out of business. And yes, I’m here to tell you that it’s my responsibility for this person to succeed.
But it’s a 2-sided transaction. The definition of a bargain is when both parties walk away thinking they profited. I need to know that this entrepreneur has sustainable business practices and they need to be able to count on my patronage.
Local residents get angry because a liquor store went up in the place of the cute cafe which went out of business. The person owning the liquor store isn’t a bad person but he sees the opportunity and market for selling alcohol and maybe even failed when he tried to sell coffee before.
I may decide to make my coffee at home. I go to the big store and buy my roasted and ground up coffee beans for $9.99 a pound. I then buy a shitty plastic coffee machine from China for $20 or maybe a really fancy Espresso machine for $3,000 and I make my own coffee.
What I’ve done here is build my own coffee shop at home. But now I have driven my local cafe out of business, I enslaved a bunch of black folks to pick my coffee, I annihilated a bunch of brown people by taking their fossil fuel to fuel the shipment from China to me in Portland, and I screwed over mother earth because that coffee machine will end up in the landfill.
I walk by a barber nearly every day on my way to the gym. I keep asking myself why I don’t just go to him to get my hair trimmed. Instead I have a Wahl trimmer which I use myself about once a week so that I don’t look like a caveman’s ass.
If I don’t support him then he might go out of business. What will pop up there instead? Well, probably a titty bar. I didn’t just put that dude out of business but now he will go get a job somewhere where he can sell poor quality, mass produced items to shallow thinking consumers such as myself.
I’m not fully to blame for this of course, after all, I’m not a bad person. His overhead might also be too high which would require him to have a ton of customers before being profitable.
The Caveat To Local Spending
Inner nurturer and outer narcissist. This is my motto for global prosperity. If each of us can first be selfish enough to take care of ourselves then we won’t have to worry about bailing every other person out.
Love yourself, teach yourself, heal yourself, be kind to yourself, and get yourself to some dry land. In order to achieve this you’re going to have to be hard-working, selfish, and yes, a bit of a narcissist at first.
I assure you that once you get to that place of independence, not just financial but emotional and physical, then you will help others around you. The narcissistic vail will fall off spontaneously. You won’t become a scrooge because it would make little sense to become so.
In order to achieve this level of independence you need to be frugal. Which means that you may not be able to support your local businesses as much as you’d like or as much as you’d need. Do you see why it’s so important then for you to get to a place of financial independence as soon as possible? Not at age 65 – but closer to age 30?
Your right of passage into a sustainable world is paved by learning to fix your own bicycle, to cut your own hair with scissors, to make your own food, to even grow some of your own produce, to maintain your own health. And finally, when you have a business of your own or a marketable skill of your own then it’s time for you to give back to your society by shopping locally.
Forget donating money, spend and be present where it matters – that’s the most potent vote you can cast and the biggest difference you’ll make. You love animals? Great. No need to donate to animal causes, just don’t eat animals unless you raised the little stinker yourself.
You have a soft spot for women who have gotten dragged into the sex industry? You don’t need to go to that fundraiser dinner, just stop watching mainstream porn.
Setting Our Own Spending Limits
Too many Americans spend what they are told to spend. They buy what they are told to buy and budget according to external pressures without having internal limiters.
The frugal physician spends very little and because they spend a lot less than even the average US household, they can be quite selective where they spend their money.
More importantly, their dollars have a lot more value. These flexible dollars aren’t spoken for by expensive homes, thin margins on debt, or expensive hobbies.
We can support a local business or service because we want them to stick around. We may be paying more for that service but that’s how wealthy communities are created – rich people choose to go spend their money on coffee at a high-end private cafe rather than the local Starbucks.
This is the definition of lifestyle-by-design.
The Big Picture
If you made it through this dissertation then I hope I communicated to you that it’s important to get our individual household to a sustainable financial situation as soon as possible in order to be able to enjoy local consumerism.
We want to live comfortable and safe lives in this world. In order to do that we need to get ourselves to a safe place first. That means financial independence as a start. The more financially independent individuals we have the less likely it is for us to buy into the lies which oppress the rest of the world.
Our dollars and our presence is what we can vote with. Not only do we get to vote with them but they are far more potent than any donation or volunteering act performed.