Buy Local: It’s not just for pandering anymore

One of the more persistent strains of Philpuckey is his advocacy of Buying Local. He’s made it a regular theme of his Lite-Guvship, memorably captured in a front-page article in the Burlington Free Press last November that featured Phil Scott with his famous “Buy Local — It’s Not Just for Hippies Anymore” slogan.

(Which, first of all, “Buy Local” was never “just for hippies.” And second, it misunderstands the movement. Hippies were less concerned with where they bought their stuff, than with not buying stuff at all. It was an anti-consumption worldview. But hey, it’s just convenient shorthand for “long-haired weirdos”, right?)

“Buy Local” is an attractive pitch for Scott. It’s politically appealing, it reinforces his “real Vermonter” image and his status as a local business owner. It’s no-lose all the way around.

But coming from him, it’s effectively meaningless. Phil Scott may verbally support Buying Local, but if push comes to shove, he’ll opt for expediency. Proof: More than half his campaign’s total expenditures have gone to out-of-state firms and individuals. Latest example: a series of mass media buys since October 20, totaling $85,000, all going to out-of-state companies. That includes:

— $40,000 to D.C.-based Optimus Consulting, which has managed the Scott campaign’s media buys.

— $54,000 to Spectrum Marketing of Manchester, NH for “Media — Postcards.”

— $11,000 to SCM Associates of Dublin, NH, also for “Media — Postcards.”

Perhaps he needed some Washington Big Boys to buy spots on WCAX, but did he really need to go to New Hampshire for direct mail services?

There may be good reasons for all these out-of-state expenditures, but they make him look like a hypocrite when he sends out Tweets like this:

In truth, this is nothing terribly unique. The “Buy Local” pander is widely used in politics and rarely put into practice. Which is too bad, because as public policy, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Way back in the summer of 2000, a callow youngster named Doug Hoffer co-authored a report (with Ellen Kahler, now head of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund) called “The Leaky Bucket,” which detailed the real economic impact of Buying Local. The specific figures are out of date*, but the fundamental conclusions are still pertinent.

*Hoffer has told me that it would be difficult to update the report because too many of the statistics are no longer collected or available. 

— Boosting local production has a “multiplier effect” on the economy. The Multiplier Effect is a real, measurable thing. Case in point:

For example, supplying more locally produced food would require more farmers and food processors, more packaging and advertising, as well as all the inputs needed at each step in the process (labor, machinery & equipment, energy). The U.S. Commerce Department has created an input-output (I-O) model that reflects a region’s industrial structure and trading patterns. The Commerce Department’s RIMS II I-O model is widely used and provides multipliers for all industries. The multipliers allow us to estimate the total direct and indirect impacts of changes in a given industry on regional output, earnings and employment. We can also estimate new tax revenues related to the new economic activity.

— The Multiplier Effect shows that even a small increase in “buying local” would create thousands of new jobs and millions in new tax revenue.

— Even in 2000, VT’s economy was increasingly reliant on sectors like tourism that offer little room for income growth or career advancement. That’s even more true now. A commitment to Buying Local — in policy, not just verbiage — would create better jobs across multiple sectors.

— The United States is often dinged for its consistently negative import/export balance. In 2000, Vermont was seven times more dependent on imports than the U.S. as a whole.

— A small state will inevitably have to import a lot of goods, but there are economic sectors that are full of opportunity for localization.

— The energy sector is a huge underappreciated opportunity. Vermont imports the vast majority of its energy, sending hundreds of millions of dollars out of state each year. Development of renewables would keep more energy dollars within the state.

Truth be told, if politicians actually got serious about Buying Local it would jumpstart Vermont’s economy, creating tens of thousands of new jobs and millions in new tax revenue. It would be far more impactful than Phil Scott’s endless array of tax credits.

Now, if Scott were to lay out a specific agenda for Buying Local instead of reducing it to a bumper sticker, then he could be credited with turning his nice-sounding words into action. Until then, it’s nothing but Philpuckey.


Postscript. Of course, paying lip service to “Buy Local” is nothing new for Republican politicos. I’ve been reminded that the Jim Douglas administration once launched a “Buy Local” initiative. But it was confined to fruits and vegetables, and it was merely a recommendation that Vermonters buy ten percent of their produce from local growers. I guess we could call that Jimpuckey.


5 thoughts on “Buy Local: It’s not just for pandering anymore

      1. Maureen Labenski

        Buying a car that hires American workers is the same principle with the same benefits, just on a different scale. The people who slap “Buy Local” signs on their Subarus should at least understand the irony.

    1. Maureen Labenski

      Two Subaru models are assembled in Indiana and they do employ local people as you say. However, there are only 7 cars that contain at least 75% domestic content (due to lobbying by the big 3 domestic includes Canadian content) and Subaru is not one of them. I’ll split the difference with you and make sure that 45% of the kale I eat is local.


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