Sustainable Shopping: Buying Locally
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 00:09
When it’s time to pick up some hardware supplies or grab a bite to eat, most of us feel better when we can take our business to a unique and reliable local business rather than a cookie-cutter box store or restaurant. Local businesses contribute to community character and keep wealth within the community (for more details, see my previous article). The question is, why is it that big businesses seem to prosper while our local businesses continue to struggle? The primary culprit is policy.
While it is always good practice to be a conscientious consumer and to strive to buy products locally, the truth is that individual shopping behavior alone is not going to fundamentally change the economy. True reform can only be done through the legislative process. Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, addresses this mission in her compelling article “Towards a Localist Policy Agenda.” Despite many recent indications of positive local community growth, Mitchell explains our policies are still skewed towards promoting big business development over small business development.
For example, she states, that while the number locally owned grocery stores have actually increased in the past few years, “their overall market share has shrunk from about 25 to 20 percent in the last decade. Meanwhile, we’ve experienced massive consolidation in the rest of the food system. Walmart was a small player in the grocery industry 15 years ago, with only about 4 percent of grocery sales. Today it captures one of every four dollars Americans spend on groceries.”
Mitchell said that this disparity is not a reflection of what American consumers really want but is a product of corporate policy agendas. “Most people have only a dim idea of the degree to which this goes on. They assume that local businesses are failing because they can’t compete, but, to a large extent, it’s because the game is rigged,” she sates.
Although this claim may seem dramatic, a recent study published by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen provides the data to back it up. The June 2013 study Lax Taxes reveals that over the past several decades corporate profits have soared while their contribution to national income taxes has steadily dropped. Through a variety of loopholes and perverse tax incentives, corporations are actually raking in profits at an all-time high despite the economic downturn that the rest of the country is suffering. In fact, a report in 2011 (referenced in Lax Taxes) found that “78 Fortune 500 companies paid no taxes in 2008, 2009, or 2010.” And according to a June 18th article in the Huffington Post, U.S. corporations are withholding $1.7 trillion in off-shore locations.
Happily, and perhaps surprisingly, the federal government may actually be taking action against this unfair aid to mega corporations. Three bills have been proposed for this fall, all of which either intend to close tax loopholes or act to impose new taxes on businesses that have been avoiding them. These are the Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act, the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act and the Wall Street Trading and Speculators Tax Act. Supporting these bills represents an opportunity to level the economic playing field for small businesses, and to make corporate giants play by the rules. It may well be worth your time to write your representative!