Are poor folks and the middle class on the same side?

Photo: Saad Akhtar

Rational people try to buy what they need at the cheapest price they can find.  There's a contrary argument, though, that holds that it's "shooting themselves in the foot" for poor folks to shop at big-box stores and eat at chain restaurants:  Buying cheap goods from the same companies that use globalization to grind wages down as low as possible--doesn't that amount to supporting their own oppression?

The people who make that case are mostly affluent, upper-middle class folks. They want to eat local (preferably organic) food, buy stuff that isn't made by children or slave labor, and avoid supporting activities that deplete fisheries or promote global warming. Their choices are limited, though, because there aren't enough people like them. In order for the choices they want to be readily available, they need to expand the market--by getting the poor, working class, and middle class to buy into the whole "vote with your dollars" notion of supporting local production of food and crafts.

The case for local

When you buy what's cheapest, the money typically goes to a chain store. Some of the money stays in town--they hire local workers, pay local taxes, use local utilities--but most of it disappears into the vast reaches of globalized trade. In particular, any profits go almost exclusively into the pockets of the extremely wealthy.

When you buy local, almost all the money stays in town. You can construct whole fantasies of local groceries and restaurants buying meat and produce from local farmers, spending their profits at local shops that buy their goods from local craftspeople, who then have enough money to hire local workers, producing a virtuous circle that benefits all the local folks.

I call it a fantasy, even though I agree with the basic premise. Because, here's the thing: Yes, the folks shopping at the big box stores and eating at chain fast food restaurants are sending out of town money that local businesses might have used to hire them or buy from them, but they're still coming out ahead. And that's especially true of the poor and working-class folks.

The affluent folks talk a lot about how moving jobs overseas not only costs jobs in the US, it also puts huge downward pressure on the wages of the jobs that remain. My back-of-the-envelope calculations, though, suggest that working-class folks still come out ahead--because the stuff they buy is so much cheaper.

The case against local

As recently as the 1970s, setting up a first apartment was a very expensive undertaking (which is why there's a tradition of things like house-warming parties and wedding showers). In 2008, the cost of setting up a minimal household (a pot, a skillet, two or four place settings, a few glasses, something to sit on, and something to sleep on) is probably as cheap as it has ever been, at least since the days when hunter-gatherers made everything they needed themselves.

This fact serves as a great wedge between the poor and working-class folks on the one hand, and the upper-middle class folks on the other. When someone says, "Hey! Shopping at places like WalMart is shooting yourself in the foot!" all the poor person knows is that someone is trying to take away his one chance at coming close to a middle-class standard of living.

Yes, if everyone tried to buy local, the money would stay in town--ready to be turned around to buy other local stuff and hire other local folks. The production wouldn't end up in China or India or Bangladesh, and the profits wouldn't end up on Wall Street. But the young couple trying to furnish their first apartment would have to sleep on the floor for months to cover the difference between a bed from Ikea and a bed made by a local woodworker. How long should they eat out of cooking pots to save up enough money to buy ceramic dishes produced by a local potter when they could buy some Corelle for just a few dollars? I've seen stainless steel flatwear on sale cheaper than plastic--what local producer could come close?

(As a practical matter, currently poor folks can probably do best of all by buying a mixture of local and used. Between thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, and FreeCycle you can almost certainly find everything you need to set up housekeeping even cheaper than you could do it at the big-box stores. Of course, it might take several weeks to get done what you could do in a couple of hours at WalMart and Ikea. Besides that, though, the strategy only works because so many people are buying so much cheap stuff that there's a surplus available to be sold cheap or given away.)

The ethical arguments are valid. I don't want to buy things made by children or slaves. There are also some long-term practical arguments to support local production as well. I don't want to buy things made in ways that destroy the natural systems that future production will depend on. Further, locally produced stuff can be better than the stuff sold cheap in globalized trade. (This is particularly true of food, which is often both tastier and healthier.)

But the purely economic argument in favor of local production, although appealing, is probably just wrong. The reason the globalization model works is that we've exported our poverty. If we keep the production local, we either have to have much more expensive goods or else we have to pay our local workers the same pittance that the overseas workers get paid--making the working class much poorer.

Because of that, I think the economic interests of the broad middle class turn out to align with the poor and working class folks. If we want the ethical and long term arguments to win out, the strategy of just trying to convince people that local is in their interest is not a winning strategy.


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Guest's picture

you're reading or have read the same book I'm reading: World Hunger, 12 Myths. I too have some reservations about their (the authors') arguments, even though I too agree with many of their premises. I think your summation that "we have exported our poverty" doesn't tell the whole story though. (And there's a large ethical quandary to be addressed there to the extent that it's true.) Clearly we haven't exported *all* our poverty. We have plenty of poor people in the US. And by lowering wages in places like Mexico, large corporations in effect make the US a more attractive destination for poor workers, who will come here legally or illegally. So yes, while we export some poverty, we have further endangered our own poor, and made ourselves a magnet for even poorer foreigners.

I don't have all the answers, clearly. It's a very complicated situation. But as someone who can afford *not* to shop at Wal-mart, I don't. I think and hope that I'm doing the right thing by not participating in funneling more money away from the poor, and into the pockets of the richest of the rich.

Guest's picture

maybe watch this video for some insight..
there are hidden costs and we all pay

Philip Brewer's picture

@ funkright:

I've seen the Story of Stuff.  What I'm saying is that relying on people to make the right economic choice won't solve the problem--because these hidden costs are paid by everybody.  Until these hidden costs are embedded in the prices people pay, it will always make sense to buy the cheapest and let other people pay part of the cost.

Linsey Knerl's picture

But the assumption made is that:

a) those that shop local/organic/etc are middle class or higher and

b) the middle class or higher are more interested in buying local/organic/etc and therefore, do

If you lived where I do, there are a handful of stores to choose from that offer what a family would need to live.  Walmart is one.  Target is another.  Both the poor and the middle class (and the upper crust) shop these stores.  We also buy local and organic WHEN available. 

The thinking in the article (while I really did enjoy it) is rather simplified.  "Poor" is a very relative term.  Someone making $35,000 a year here with a couple of kiddos in school in rural Nebraska could be considered rather well-off, but it still considered poverty-stricken according to national statistics.  That same $35,000 could get you a nice rental home (or even an affordable mortgage) a pre-owned vehicle, food, utilities, and an ocassional hot turkey meal at the local diner.  You could buy presents for your kids, and assuming your work paid your healthcare, you'd have fewer worries than someone getting $60,000+ in the metro  (where rent is 2-3 times higher.)

From my point of view, I see the "rich" buying things that are unnecessary, and further contribute to the problems you mention.  How many upper crust folks do you know who insist on brand name clothing that is no more ethical in it's production than the clothing made and sold at Walmart (except they charge $65 for the t-shirt that they paid the village clothier $.50, where Walmart sold the same thing for $6.)?  I won't name names, but we all know of the mall monsters that sell image, sex, and a sense of entitlement along with their "distressed" jeans, at a price that cuts into the family meal budget.  Fathers and mothers are working extra hours away from their families because they somehow think giving these things to their children is somehow improving their quality of life -- in fact, they are helping the problems you mentioned along.

I like that people are beginning to buy with their values.  That has always been an American ideal that I have believed in (whether or not I hold the same ideals.)  I abhor slave labor, poisons in my food, and the waste of precious resources.)

I do hope, however, that people take a long and hard look at how certain labels have given them a false sense of security.  Buying from one store vs. another doesn't get you off the hook.  Foods labeled "all-natural", "cruelty-free" etc.  aren't always what they appear to be.  There ARE items sold at stores like Target, Walmart, Walgreens, etc that can fall into your value system, and these same stores are making new efforts every day to include sustainability and responsibility into their business plans -- with a goal to offer it to EVERYONE, not just the wealthy.

The classist mentality that you acknowledged in the article is probably true to some degree, but it is also very sad.  We all want what's best for our kids and planet (or at least those "Poor" people I hang with do.)  Until ethical choices are available to more people, they are just a decision between feeding your family and feeding someone else's.  (Because even those "ethical" companies are turning a profit!)

Thanks, Philip!



Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
John Kavanagh

"we have exported our poverty"

One country's perception of "poverty" jobs, is a step up for another country. While working a low skill manufacturing job, let's say broom-making, can't command a middle class wage in the USA, the opportunity to weave brooms in China is a great alternative to subsistence agriculture in the rural countryside.

If that wasn't the case, China wouldn't have witnessed the world's largest human migration from interior China to coastal China over the last decade.

I think there is also an ethical argument to be made for giving an equal opportunity for a third world worker to earn his lot selling housewares to me as there is for a local Upstate New Yorker around the corner.

Guest's picture

While the focus of this article seems to be local vs inexpensive with the presupposition that "Rational people try to buy what they need at the cheapest price they can find," it is unreasonable to view cost as solely a function of the individual's pocketbook. It is never a "purely economic argument."

The heart of the Buy Local, Source Local (BL/SL) movement is social justice. The reality is that we cannot produce every good or service in our own backyards. We need to have other economically viable communities to trade with (regardless of which corner of the globe they may be.) BL/SL encourages consumer responsibility, fair trade and income parity among the citizenry.

By suggesting that, "If we keep the production local, we either have to have much more expensive goods or else we have to pay our local workers the same pittance that the overseas workers get paid--making the working class much poorer." is ignoring another key possibility: Increased demand for local labor and expertise will create a more competitive local market which will drive cost but also wages. You are not enslaving your neighbors but empowering them. The people who lose out in a global BL/SL scenario are the investors, the speculators and the executive class. Is it any wonder the the corporate structure (of which I am part) functions like it does.

The idea of a BL/SL economy encourages investment in human capital through better living conditions, education, health care etc. It promotes sustainable resource acquisition, allocation and consumption. And most importantly, it forces us to recognize the intrinsic value of community, realize that we are all in this together and that cooperation can be a profitable as competition.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ JRR:

You've expressed the argument well.  I just don't think the math works out.

Yes, if large numbers of people buy local, that will keep the money in town--and bid up the costs of labor for people to do this local work.  We don't bring slave labor and poverty-level wages home, because increased demand works to support wages--but it also raises costs.  That makes local products even less competitive with products sourced globally.

The end result of going down that path is that an individual person is best off if everyone else buys local, but that person goes ahead and buys the lowest cost item.  (This is part of the reason we see so much effort to exhort people to buy local.)

Guest's picture

I think preferential buying (e.g. buy local) is a very inefficient way to try to reform the world. It strikes me as a modern form of indulgences: sacrifice some money to feel absolved of guilt, without actually fixing anything. Corporate America doesn't have any kind of mechanism to connect individual purchasing decisions with their actions. Suppose I'm suddenly inspired to stop shopping at Wal-Mart, and one store sees a .001% drop in revenue; are they really going to notice that AND conclude that it's a statement about their social responsibility AND decide to change their ways?

My view is that it's much more effective to buy things as cheaply as possible and donate the savings to a charity, non profit, or political campaign working on the issues you care about. Our political system IS designed to respond to individual viewpoints, and good charities/non-profits work to use donations to maximum advantage.

There are a handful of companies that I think really are too evil to do business with, and I do boycot those. Past that I think philanthropy is a much better use of disposable income.

Guest's picture
M. Wong

90% of what I buy is local. How do I manage this? Just about everything in my house is second hand. I buy from thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales. I also use craigslist to and freecycle to find what I need for free. Oh, and about 50% of the furniture in my house--fabulous antique pieces--I trash picked off the curb. My money stays in the community, often doing double-duty as my purchases from charity-owned stores provide AIDS healthcare, food for the homeless and job training. Buying used allows me to have a much higher standard of living than I would if I bought new. I can buy better quality used merchandise for the same price as buying new at a box store. For example, I just bought a pristine condition, used cashmere sweater for $20 that I'll be able to wear for years. Lastly, buying used conserves resources.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ M. Wong:

You're right.  In fact, buying something that would otherwise have entered the waste stream is purely good--since the item doesn't need to be produced, it doesn't produce any negative externalities.

However, in the medium term, the practice isn't sustainable.  Those items only exist because other people are buying new stuff (and throwing away their old stuff).  As production becomes more sustainable, the huge amount of used stuff currently available will dry up.  So, use that resource now, but understand that it depends on current unsustainable practices.

Guest's picture

I absolutely agree with you about buying 2nd hand - you can get goods of MUCH higher quality inexpensively than at a big box store. (I rarely go into any - as I find their goods overpriced and in the case of furniture - shoddy.)

The truly poor have fewer choices as the sources of food in their neighborhoods is limited and often over-priced, coming from Mom and Pop stores, rather than big grocery chains. But they may also be generally making bad economic choices out of ignorance or for other reasons...It would seem obvious to us, the educated, that getting an education is key - but that sadly doesn't compute among the truly poor - part of the reason they stay that way...

Linsey Knerl's picture

I totally agree that you can buy many consumer goods locally, second-hand, and through off-retail means.  But there is a risk (though slight) when doing this, as well.  With retail stores, you can be fairly certain that they have followed protocol to ensure that the goods came from licensed suppliers.  With Craigslist, Goodwill, or even a garage sale, you can't.  Just because people don't sell TV's out of the backs of trucks as obviously as they used to, doesn't mean stolen or knock-off goods aren't out there.

I'm glad to see people using creativity in getting goods.  I just caution them to be careful, use common sense, and beware of any "too good to be true" deals.  Especially around the holidays, when theives will pawn anything for cash. 

Yeah for local trade!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
poor boomer

As an actual poor American,this issue hits home, and I have been a consistent critic of 'local' and 'sustainable' movements to the extent their goods and services are inaccessible to the poor.

I have been saying for some time that unless addressed, poverty will frustrate local and sustainable movements.

These people can hardly expect poor Americans to buy local and to live green when doing so makes them financially worse off.

Guest's picture

This year we moved from California to the South, our professional salary is more than in San Francisco--almost $90k--but deciding to play super-frugal and live even more miserly than the poor of Texas, thus, this being my first time in an apartment complex full of the working-class Latinos and Blacks (migrant unemployed, cleaners, gardeners, etc.)

While we prosper immensely, I learned:

Our neighbors do shop religiously on Craigslist and Wal-Mart but most are uninformed, undiscerning consumers. They work 12 hours a day, or go months without work and barely have time to reflect, much less have internet proficiency to compare. These communities are struggling to achieve a middle-class life partly because they get ripped off A LOT, every week, way more than whites or East Asian communities do. When they make money, established contractors are more likely to make errors on lay people's paychecks and make it hard for them to get their money even months after it is due. When they spend money, they are miserably informed about what's free, what's false advertising, and will spend more maintenance costs because businesses charge them more for services. Take rebooting a computer. Where most college students do this for free, our roommates were charged $200+ because they didn't know about computing. For a car service that my family mechanic does for $50, they were charged nearly $1000. Over the past month, we've heard them receive calls at home from loan sharks to advertisement deals to small insurance companies showing how they can get more for their money, the sort of aggressive/persuasive marketing to the working class that rarely happened in my privileged residences before.

Often deceived and many times disillusioned by their own friends and social acquaintances through pyramid schemes, my working class neighbors are often gracious, friendly but resigned. Walmart, Sam's Club and the 99-Cent Store may be the most legitimate establishments they trust, suspicion being that small-local businesses are often (to them) fraudulent, unfair and discriminatory. Most of this Hispanic-Black community is in debt, yet, they spend more than double what I do to get by because they are so often locked out of the economy that serves "my-type" of people. Local business here is NOT the romanticized handmade organic place that served artsy pastries, here it's the seedy pawn shop or filthy garage.

This abrupt realization made me very aware that the fact that I naturally trust friends in social circles, that I access many more tools, options and price structures and financing vehicles at my disposal including Wise Bread, is a class privilege. To understand poverty, we should understand this double-standard.

Guest's picture

My humble opinion is that those who have the wealth to buy local and stay our of Walmart should. But give poor people a break. For many of them, Walmart does more for their quality of life than the federal government.

Guest's picture

My girlfriend is the model for buying used.

She hates buying new products because of the waste of packaging, shipping, and all of the energy used to make the items we so thoughtlessly consume. Just today she was talking about starting a blog in her attempt to never buy a new product ever again. I think that's a cool idea.

She's getting her plans together to start a thrift store.

Guest's picture

Philip, About those "hidden costs" - my fear is that like the emperor's new clothes, only con artists, liars and suckers will be able to see them. When I think of the trillions that will be sucked out of our economy and the individual rights that will be trampled to "fight global warming" I can't easily get in the mood for more "hidden costs" taxes.

But that's the big risk of making the government responsible in people's minds for taking care of all our problems - with responsibility comes the need for power. Combine that with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force and sooner or later you get Stalin, Mugabe or ?

Guest's picture

There are good points in most all posts here.

Wal Mart has made it possible for poor people to buy basketsful of 'stuff' - not quality stuff, just stuff. It seems to make them feel good about things and they confuse quantity with quality.

I understand why people buy at Wal Mart, though. Sometimes it is the only place to purchase certain things - other outlets are gone. In a small town, it is likely the only place to purchase fabric and sewing notions, among other things.

Also if you only have $10 and you or your child needs shoes, Wal Mart is the place to go. That doesn't make it a good thing - it just makes it the only thing.

What would be wrong with sleeping on the floor for a few months in order to save up enough money to purchase something that will last maybe a lifetime, as opposed to something that will end up on the curb in a few years? If it is something that can be postponed in order to buy better quality, I don't understand that.

It all depends, I guess, on what one considers quality of life - and different people see it differently.

We are not illegals, not minorities, not really poor, and in just the last year or were scammed by a doctor, a satellite company, and an attempted scam by a credit card company (that isn't settled yet). I'm sure a lot of people who have had to have computers and cars fixed, or home repairs have been scammed. It isn't limited to local companies or to poor or illegals. It is just a sign of the times, I'm thinking.

Guest's picture

A missing part of the whole argument for Walmart is the logic of a rich man's boots. There is a specific story about this but I can not remember the origin.

The rich man spends $300 on one pair of boots, he has them resoled every few years for a small fee and wears the boots for decades. The poor man buys poor quality shoes for $50 but has to replace them every six months. The shoes can not be repaired and do not last long. Guess who ended up spending more money on boots.

This theory applies to many things offered at Walmart or in general offered to people on the lower income brackets. Walmart is also not the bargain people try to claim it is. One very enlightening incident that really was what caused me to quit shopping Walmart had to do with kids clothes. I always assumed Walmart was cheaper so I quit comparing prices. A child's clothing outfit at Walmart was MORE than a similar outfit at Macy's or Children's Place on sale. Both run sales often enough and in season. The clothing items at these other places are also better quality. This caused me to look at both longevity and price. Walmart lost. But as others mentioned it requires that level of knowledge to make these decisions. Some people don't have the connectedness or know how to do this.

Local and green also is not always more expensive. People too often assume local to be Whole Foods or local trendy places, both cost a metric ton of money. Where we live local can be cheaper. A dozen eggs from the guy south of me is $1. Tomatoes at the farmers market in Sept. were $1. a pound but they were still $2-$3 at the grocery stores. Other veggies were similarly much cheaper at the farmers market when the season ended. We can get grass fed beef for $4 a pound average if we go in on a cow. Many of the cuts at the grocery store are over $4.

The person that mentioned how much the lower classes are bilked out of their income by businesses that target them as a demographic are quite right. The lack of nearby other options compounds this, like neighborhoods with no grocery stores. If people really wanted to make a difference in the lives of these people it would be to go within their community and offer this knowledge and help. San Francisco had groups creating community banks so the "unbanked" had an option other than check cashing stores that took a huge chunk of their pay. Helping people in those communities become better consumers and hold on to more of their money by knowledge of helping set up better options could make huge changes for their lives.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ lucille:

You've put your finger on just what Wise Bread is all about.  There are lots of things where all that's needed is a bit of knowledge or a bit of perspective for poor folks to get the same advantages as rich folks--and the knowedge and perspective are what we try to provide here.

For other things, though, you can have plenty of knowledge and perspective, and the "best" choice is still only available to people with plenty of cash.  In those cases, when there's a "good enough" option provided by the big-box stores, it's going to be so attractive you could tell $300 boot stories until the cows come home--and the poor folks are still going to go with what's possible rather than what's best.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I have to agree with Lucille on her statement about higher quality items.  To a large degree this reasoning is correct.  We often spend more money on workboots, gloves, winterwear, tires, jeans, eyeglasses, and other items that will be worn well and need to last a long time.   We always get our money's worth by investing in them.

That being said,  you can't draw a straight line equation between quality, pricing, and the retailer you bought it from.  JCPenney's always sells their clothing at a higher price than a Walmart or a Target.  Would I say that their clothes are superior in quality?  Hardly.  I never see my clothing from their "fashion" brands last very long.  But if I buy a good pair of Levi's, they will last a long time. 

The only problem is now that both JCPenney and Walmart sell Levi's.  I will save $5 at least by buying them from Walmart.  Does that make me a horrible person?  No.  Does it put an extra $5 in the college fund for my daughter, the collection plate during the holiday love offerering, or give me a bit more to put towards my Health Savings Account?  Yes.

Quality can be found most anywhere.  Stores names are not all you need to know when finding quality.  That's why retail outlets and online wholesalers are immensely popular and very easy on the budget.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Several people have commented about the cheap stuff at Walmart not lasting long. Sure, a lot of cheap manufactured stuff is poor quality, but a lot is just fine. Two of the best purchases I ever made were like this. I was one of the small number of Americans who bought a Yugo and took care of it. If you treated it like a disposable car, it didn't last long, but if you changed the oil regularly and had it properly maintained it was quite durable. We drove ours for 10 years -- it was a great, rugged, no-frills little car -- and I wish I could buy another. My other example is this wonderful plastic furniture that Rubbermaid used to make. We have an entertainment center and set of bookshelves. We've had them for abut 20 years. I love them because, if they were wood, they'd have gotten beaten by the moves and kids. Maybe gray plastic isn't the finest decor, but they've been both cheap *and*serviceable. I wish I could get more of the bookshelves. Cheap doesn't necessarily equal bad.

Guest's picture

I think there is something wrong with the argument that local and sustainable are values that only middle class and rich consumers aspire to. There is also something wrong with the argument that this has to be expensive. My family is by no means well off -- at least not yet -- but we do have sustainable ideals. But we shop at Wal-Mart. Why? Because we know that our money will go further there.

Let me clarify that. We shop for everyday items at Wal-Mart: Groceries, toilet paper, etc. And whenever we find an organic, recycled, or otherwise sustainably made option, we purchase that -- at WalMart. We don't have a farmer's market nearby, or we'd be shopping there knowing that we'd be cutting out packaging and extra cost by buying our food directly from the people who produced it.

However, for larger purchases like furniture and clothing, we first buy used. Again, I understand that this practice is sustainable only as long as there are people out there buying new items that can be disposed. So like you said, we will take advantage of it while it lasts. If we can't buy used, we try to find items that are sustainably made. For example, my daughter needs some new winter clothes, so I'm trying to find options that are both sustainably made and affordable, and if possible local.

What you failed to mention, however, is that once sustainability becomes the norm rather than the exception in producing such big-budget items as furniture, the demand will dictate that prices will get lower and therefore be more affordable and accessible to the masses. You also failed to mention that "local" is not the only way to be sustainable. Fair Trade is just as important a part of the green movement as local. Fair Trade items are imported, yes, but they provide fair living wages for the artisans who create them.

All in all, I think sustainability is not, and shouldn't be, only a direct function of where you shop. It is about being a conscious consumer in terms of where you shop AND what you buy. And more realistically, it is also a function of what you can afford. But as long as there are people who are promoting the idea that sustainability is expensive, there will be people who will turn away from that ideal because they immediately believe they cannot afford it.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ Jennae:

I'm completely with you:  I make much the same choices you do, preferring sustainable goods (local when I can get them and fair-trade when I can't).  I'm certainly not promoting the idea that sustainable is expensive.  In fact, I think it's clear that sustainable is cheaper, if prices include all the externalities.  But prices don't include all the externalities--and in that situation, globalized production is (speaking in broad generalities) not only cheaper, it's so much cheaper that only the affluent can choose sustainable goods without having to give up a middle-class standard of living.

Having said that, two minor points:

First (I'm sure you know this, but just to be clear), rising demand doesn't lower prices.  What rising demand does is allow manufacturers to increase production, and that increased production will often produce economies of scale--and that's what can lead to lower prices.  I think it's important to follow the chain through to the end, because I think the return to scale for local and sustainable production will often be smaller than for globalized production, so I don't think this effect will be strong enough to change math--globalized production will remain cheaper.

Second, so far I kind of like "local" as short-hand for all the other terms (sustainable, organic, fair-trade, cruelty-free, etc.).  It's not perfect--any place there's a factory producing goods for global trade the stuff they make is "local" to that spot.  But "local" solves a bunch of problems having to do with externalties (the harmful effects are felt right there rather than halfway around the world) and information (if you can see how the animals live and watch them being slaughtered, you can apply your own values to what you eat).

Guest's picture

This discussion is fascinating.

I shopped "ethically" even when much poorer by making compromises - I could eat organic food if I also ate vegetarian.

I would say the biggest (unspoken) constraint on purchasing in poverty is actually time and location.

A lot of poor(er) people I know (and I include my former self in this category) have a different kind of time scarcity. I was working full time, trying to better myself through education in the off hours, volunteering because I knew how many people were worse off than I was, and taking public transit that ate up hours of my day - because the easy to access neighborhoods had the highest rent.

Every time I increased my wealth, I was able to "invest" - in better quality products, a better location where I could spend less time on transit, or an educational opportunity. These investments would have been incredibly difficult if I was supporting a family. When I lived next to a Wal-Mart, I bought my groceries there so I would not have to take them over three bus transfers on the way home in winter. I would use fast food coupons if it was nutritious "enough" to get by and cheaper than groceries.

Eventually, I moved to a sustainable location with "local" grocery stores I could access on foot, consignment stores, and even a fashion boutique that made recycled couture. My life there was very inexpensive (cheaper than my wal mart past life) and ethically almost utopian.

Saving the world comes from community planning. It's really difficult for consumers on their own to go off the corporate grid, but really easy for a critical mass in a community to create opportunities (hey, middle class, what's up?). Our farmer's market became THE place to buy food and lined a lot of local producer's pockets. Our co-op brought unpackaged organic grain to the masses for less than Quaker. If you build it, many of the poor (like me!), will come - but Wal-Mart understands this concept far better right now than many of the middle class who rail against it.

Guest's picture

I am one of those "buy local" sustainable types. At least, I've been a CSA member for 9 years now. And the good this is that I get reasonably priced, delicious produce. I support a local farm so that we don't HAVE to get our food trucked in from somewhere else. And the CSA donates spare food to the food bank.

We also have a local group that goes to homes with fruit trees and collects unwanted fruit for the food bank.

You know, when I was growing up, we were poor. We were "green" and "sustainable" back then because we HAD to be. We had a garden, hung laundry out to dry, wore almost completely hand-me-downs.

I'm torn between spending more for sustainable (I can afford it) and spending less because I'm frugal. I have jeans from JCPenney or Sears because we don't HAVE Walmart or Target. In my mom's home town, Walmart food is 30% cheaper than the other grocery stores, and it's fresher because it sells faster.

Guest's picture
Anonymous Coward

Lots of good points in the posts here, but everyone seems to think they have the answer for all. The truth of the matter is that these dynamics are so complex that by the time you're done analyzing them they have changed.

Case in point: a friend of mine just moved into an apartment above a local hardware store. We thought this was great, because all the various tools and things would be right downstairs and would be cheaper than driving 3 miles to Wal-mart. But is it really?

A utility knife cost 2.49 at the local hardware store. The exact same knife, with an additional smaller knife included, cost 1.45 at Wal-Mart. When gas was over $4 a gallon we thought we'd come out ahead buying at the local hardware store. After all, it;s not just the gas, it's the oil, transmission fluid, and wear and tear on the car. Isn't it better to just walk downstairs?

But now we're rethinking this. She walks to work now, and the car sits most of the time. A car needs to be maintained and driven periodically to make sure the battery stays charged, the brakes don't rust together, and many other similar problems. It can end up costing more to NOT drive the car.

So why not get rid of the car? Well, we do live in a small suburb of a medium size city, but you are then limiting yourself to local travel exclusively. No public transportaion here. So do you simply lease a car when you travel? Is that xcheaper in the long run?

See how complicated this gets, real fast?

Guest's picture

This post went in a different direction than I expected. It was a fascinating read though. On a fundamental level, the poor and middle class are not on the same page. This arises from the middle class feeling they must use their hard earned money to support the poor.

Guest's picture

J, Insightful and motivating. It *is* hard for full-time working class to go off the mainstream grid and elect sustainable options. But your call for the middle-class to lead action inspired me to organize recycling here in our complex.

When referring to "the poor" or "working class," I want to underscore it isn't just about being broke or lacking money in economic terms. (Kudos to people earning under $15,000 a year who make educated and conscientious decisions; most of us lived the poor student life.) Endemic poverty is socio-cultural and there are swaths of folks who just aren't informed consumers, living in poor communities that aren't constructive, where local businesses prey and rip off its residents.

Large distribution chains like Wal-Mart, which not only offers affordable commodities but its own line of guaranteed Equate alternatives AND a liberal return policy if you're not satisfied, may well be among the most trusted establishment here. These may not be the cheapest nor top quality, but for those who don't have time (nor car, nor internet saavy, nor English) to price compare, the overall positive experience keeps the poor loyal.

To keep money circulating within a locality, the answer isn't to get rid of mass distributors of cheap goods, it is create more occupations that serve needs and increase the quality of life there, at a price affordable to us. (If massages were $20-an-hour, manicures and pedicures were $5 each, hair wash and styling were $10, if bouquets of flowers were $5, apt-cleaning were $10, and if someone could come by and sell common groceries door to door, if someone can cook great dinners at home, you can be sure I'd be be paying for these appointments weekly instead of... never. And several people would have steady jobs.)

But for now, I want to know: We've got plenty of poor people desperate for work. HOW does one start a community farmer's market?

Guest's picture

Just a thought. I'm not sure how one puts together a farmer's market, but I believe there is a way to start up a food coop using local producers. I think there is a national coop directory availble. If you contact one of the coops and ask someone there how they got started, that may give you enough info to start one locally. Just before we moved to South Dakota many years ago, someone had started a food coop. Items were sold in bulk monthy. Those recieving goods had to put in so many hours of work above wholesale prices. But the price differences were considerable and with planning you could split larger amounts (like a 25lb. bags of rolled oats) with others and share costs.

Guest's picture

I would imagine when someone is on the bread line that they couldn't give a monkey's about ethical buying! Survival instinct overrides everything else.

In small towns certain goods are not readily available so of course you have to reach our farther afield for them.

Guest's picture

Going organic or local or to be 'environmentally conscious' requires wealth. It is the province of yuppies or would-be yuppies. It isn't realistic or sustainable.

When you're scraping by price is paramount. Everything else is secondary.

I know some here will disagree telling me that they are environmentalist or organic consumers and yet not wealthy. It's a matter of degree. Almost everyone reading this is wealthy compared to most of the rest of the world.

3rd world countries are the least environmentally correct countries on the planet. They simply don't care, or can't afford to care.

Guest's picture

The poor and middle class are not in the same boat, if you define inclusion and exclusion based on whether someone "buys local". They are in the same boat if you widen the discussion to include trade liberalization and affordability of locally produced necessities.

One of the peculiar side-effects of globalization, in the US, has been that the increase in consumer choices and decrease in the prices of imports, is happening at the same time that health care, education, and housing have become less affordable.

Simply, those things we can import are more affordable than ever, but those things which we must produce and consume locally, are less affordable.

The most visible reason why this has happened is, medium-skilled manufacturing jobs have been eliminated from our economy. These were jobs that were open to people who hadn't gone to college, but provided a middle-class income.

Things cost more back then, but the wage gap between the poor and upper-middle class was smaller. Additionally, the tax base that was willing to fund social programs was larger. This, in turn, created a situation where working class people could afford to live in a functional home, and purchase a better education for their kids. Also, the relatively higher wages allowed the working class to purchase things locally, at small businesses.

Not only that - health insurance was more affordable, and more working class jobs provided health insurance.

With trade liberalization, these high-wage jobs have declined. The middle class is slowly vanishing because the wages for the remaining jobs haven't increased.

At the same time, the cost of basic goods and services have declined, so someone earning near minimum wage can "get by" shopping at Wal Mart or 99 Cents. The problem here is, the strongest motivator for working people to organize themselves to demand higher wages is immediate need. If someone is hungry, and they can't afford food, they are more likely to request a raise, or to seek other work. If they are all hungry, they will form a union.

Cheap goods tend to reduce this immediate need. The problem here is, this holds wages down, and the poor are less able to afford the longer-term expenses, like health care, education, and housing.

Even worse, with education increasingly out of reach, there will be a shortage of people to provide future generations with heath care and education. (Actually, we already have a shortage, because we're asking other countries to let doctors and teachers emigrate.)

Also - @Guest who wants a $10 apartment cleaning.

Those rates stated are not enough money for a large metro area.

Local services are not sustainable if the wages are too low. A $20/hr massage nets the masseur only $13/hr after taxes, and before expenses. Factor in the fact that there's downtime between clients, and that job becomes a poverty-wage job.

Maggie Wells's picture

The piano and bench were free, two of the chairs found in the street and fixed, furniture bought off a family that was moving, etc.

I often get flack because I send my kids to private school and have a membership at the co-op and buy organic. But I think this is totally offset. Our family values art, literature, health and education our household reflects that. There are tons of art supplies, used books, music, film, etc in our house but our TV is tiny and doesn't get reception. We have one car (a used Prius) whereas most of our neighbors have giant trucks, summer cars, SUVs and usually at least three). I venture to say in our little hamlet we probably do make the same money as most of our neighbors but we spend it differently. I don't shop at Wal-Mart on principle. I drop $200 on a good pair of leather shoes in a heart beat and pair them up with thirftstore skirts I got for under $2.

We don't have tons of electronic games systems, we live in a house that previous owners referred to as their little cabin. We organize vacations around where we can stay for free by housesitting or visiting friends and family. We invite people to come stay with us to reciprocate. But by some of the definitions above, I'm being an elitist.

When I was younger I made friends with a family who rented, had no matching furniture of any kind, all slept on old futons, etc. Every one of their kids went to Europe after they graduated from high school.  They taught me more about what you can do with very little than anyone else. I plan on sending my kids traveling when the time comes as well. They can negotiate the $6 motel rooms like their mother in Asia. They'll know to go to the makeshift garage next to the temples to get $1.00 and under vegan meals.

And when they come home, they can join us in being elitists because we spend our cash differently.than the status quo.

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

I'm old enough to remember when there weren't any WalMarts or Targets, so I am going to tell you what it was like then. Department stores sold clothes. They were expensive, so "poor people" (which was almost everybody) made theirs when they could afford the material. It was a lot of work to clothe a family, and the clothes never looked as good as the ones from the department stores. For this reason, it was almost impossible for a poor person to look the same as a wealthier person. Grocery stores sold groceries. The stores were small and carried the basics. There was no Asian foods aisle, no arugula, no Thai curry paste. Meals were boring. My mother-in-law told me recently that she had visited her birthplace where one of those grocery stores still existed. She asked if they had any avocados. The store manager/owner replied, "Aren't those green?" "Local" to me means something different from what it means to a young person who thinks we should return to some sort of golden age of happy producers and satisfied customers. That golden age never existed. What did exist was a limited, restricted, insular way of doing business and I don't miss it at all; I hope it never returns.

Guest's picture

The whole business of global economics is a wee bit complex, and I'm not entirely convinced that the whole BL/SL movement is founded on principles that are good for anyone. In general, I believe improved standards of living are accomplished largely through improved productivity. The flip side of being able to afford the prices involved in supporting a local cabinetmaker or herb farmer is the fact that the labor of a single farmer is enough to produce staple foodstuffs for hundreds of people.

Import substitution was a complete failure as a road to development in the third world in the 1950s and 60s--why do we think it would be a successful way to "stay developed" in our own country.

When you think about environmental impacts, for example--one must not only figure in the fuel consumption of transportation, but also the differential total fuel consumption of supporting a local artisan (consuming 6x as many of the world's resources) to make one doohicky a day vs. supporting a foreign doohicky factory worker making 20 doohickies a day and consuming a fraction of the resources as the local artisan. Like I said, it's complex, and I think the people who argue for BL/SL are leaving a lot of significant factors out of the equation.

In sum, I'd say that the middle classes who follow a "buy local" ethic are not even on their own side--and that's what puts them at odds with the working classes/poor, not the fact that their material interests are naturally opposed.

Guest's picture

The discussion around whether to buy local (read not Wal-Mart) is really one of class warfare.

The lower classes shop at Wal-Mart because the prices are low, the stores are clean and well-stocked, and the stores are convenient to get to. The elitist upper classes want to tell the lower classes where to shop (not at Wal-Mart) because shopping at Wal-Mart 'offends' these people for a variety of reasons that fit in with their political views. The lower classes of course do not listen (read or watch) to the upper classes because it goes against their economic self-interests. The upper classes' only response to that brash display of total 'ignorance' is to 'shut down' Wal-Mart by refusing them permission to build stores in their towns or neighborhoods or to try to artificially raise Wal-mart's costs by forcing them to unionize via legislation.

Wal-Mart is good for this country. Wal-Mart forces every store to be extremely aware of their prices and their selection of goods on a daily basis and how they can beat Wal-Mart at their own game. This benefits us all.

I think Wal-Mart should go into the health care business. They already have inexpensive eye care and drug prescriptions. Add a simple clinic in each store for bumps and bruises, shots, tests, and checkups and watch what happens to health care costs in this country.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ madjayhawk:

I think it's more complex than that. I think the biggest reason that the more affluent folks speak against shopping at WalMart is simply that they're trying to preserve the economic viability of the places where they want to shop.  There simply aren't enough of them to keep the old downtown stores open, if they're the only people who shop there.

Beyond that, I think they're sincere in their economic analysis--figuring that, if more people patronized local businesses, the local businesses would hire more (local) people and buy more (local) stuff.  (Their analysis is wrong, for the reasons I explain above, but I don't think its insincere.)

So, I don't see the upper-classes as being especially manipulative or controlling.  However, since their economic analysis is incomplete, I don't think their strategy (of trying to convince poor folks that shopping local is in their own interest) is going to work.

Maggie Wells's picture

There are different class habits that have nothing to do with the cost walking in the door.  Why are the majority of breastfeeding moms in this country middle class when breastfeeding is the cheapest and easiest way to feed a baby? Why aren't more poor women doing it?

Aside from the obvious (we call a trip to Wal-Mart 'going to Evil' in our family), for my size of clothing and for my daughter, I couldn't buy clothes at Wal-Mart. The clothes at our local Wal-Mart range from frumpy to dowdy in my size. For my daughter who is 4 the clothes available look like they were made for what I call 'brothel wear.'  It's not just the price of the clothes, it's what they look like, how long they'll last.

The same goes for knitting class. Many of us pick up thriftstore yarn and end dyelot skeins because they are cheap--but our knitting class is decidely middle class.It might take a few hours to knit a scarf, but I'll do it over a trip to Wal-Mart for an xmas present.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Education and opportunity...  I would guess to say that many of the poor class are also the single parent/working their tails to earn a living on one wage class.  These people could hardly do all that they do and do more of the sustainable activities mentioned.  (I remember being a single parent in the "middle" class... after a 12 hour shift, the LAST thing I wanted to do was pick my kid up from daycare and then sew something.)

It was discussed in a previous post that Stay-at-home moms (the ones more likely to exclusively breastfeed or go completely DIY for food, clothing, etc) are a sort of luxury for many families.  They are also more common in the middle/upper classes.  Many of the lower class families I know have both parents working (as in our family -- although I'm blessed to work from home.)

And until the poor class is taught anything better (like breastfeeding is good for a baby), they will never know.  I was 20 when I had my first one, and the hospital pushed formula on me like it was the next way to get rich.  They signed me up for WIC, gave me a Rx for forumula and assured me that I was a better mom for it.  I was young, and didn't think anything of it.

When I was older, I nursed my children, but still got strong resistance from the clinic, the hospital, and the WIC office during the few months that I sought help there.  They insisted that I should get formula for my children "just in case" even when I told them I was nursing. I was never more relieved than when I no longer qualified for WIC.. I was able to care for my children in the way I knew was best for them -- via nursing.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Just to clarify, for people who would make the statement "poor people don't know about" or "poor people don't care about," as in:

"I would imagine when someone is on the bread line that they couldn't give a monkey's about ethical buying! Survival instinct overrides everything else."

Those statements are actually pretty offensive. They suggest that a lack of money reduces you to being somewhat savage. Poverty doesn't remove humanity or values. Poverty doesn't make you stupid - educated, intelligent people can find themselves in poverty for a myriad of reasons (mental illness, a personal financial disaster, escaping an abusive relationship)

If the above reasoning were true, why do poor people volunteer? Why do they tithe or keep pets? Why do they feed the neighbor's children when the barely have enough to feed their own? This happens not only in North America, where poverty can be relative, but in many poor countries (I'm talking slums in Africa). Even among the homeless there is an ethic of care and community.

To suggest that poor people can't possibly share the same interests as the middle class is a pretty broad and ugly generalization. The difference is what resources poverty allows to act against concerns (like increasing pollution or erosion of social services in the community) and access to information between income levels. If you live in a country where it would take two hours of labor to buy a newspaper you probably aren't going to end up reading one.

I'm not saying all poor people care, but frankly it's not like most middle class or wealthy people care about the pro-social pro-eco values people are talking about here either.

Guest's picture

I've lived in poverty (according to federal guidelines) most of my life (I'm 24) while still trying to be a responsible consumer. And basically, it is frickin hard, but not particularly because socially and environmentally responsible products are always more expensive. The problem is because there is no easy access to these products and there is rarely good centralized information on where to find them, especially in poor neighborhoods. Poor people, in general, don't have a lot of resources or skills to organize their life. They work crazy hours for little pay and they usually don't have dependable transportation. Most that I know don't have everyday access to the internet.

For me to shop responsibly with a very limited buget, I have to spend hours of prep time educating myself, finding products and resources on the internet, planning trips, finding coupons, searching craigslist and thrift stores, etc. Most of the working poor don't have the time or capabilities to do this. When they need something, the easiest thing to do is stop on the store near the bus stop on the way home from work or go to the mom and pop store down the street from their apartment. Really, who has the energy to do anything else after coming home to kids after a long day at a blue collar job, especially if you have poor health because you can't afford to go to the doctor? Or if you don't have a car...

I do believe in the "fantasy" of strong, affordable local communities. But it's going to take the minds and resources of the upper middle class and educated individuals who claim to believe in it to make it possible. We need centralized resources that make affordable local products convenient to purchase, just like it's convenient to walk into a walmart and buy cheap crap.

The Oklahoma Food Cooperative is a great example of this ( We need other networks like this that connect the local producers to local consumers. And we need ways to reach out to poor communities, help them to realize the benefits of buying these products and make it easy for them to do so.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ heather:

Yeah, I'm with you.  However, I have high hopes that the internet will end up making a huge difference here.

Granted, at the moment it's mainly the affluent folks who can take full advantage.  Environmental advocacy groups still print little pocket guides so that buyers can check and see which products are cruelty-free or lead-free or sustainable in one way or another.  But that information is already available over the web, and soon pocket devices connected to the internet will be cheap enough that even the poor can have them.  (At least, the poor in rich countries.)

Certain kinds of problems used to be intractable--for example, dividing up the production of Community Supported Agriculture any way other than equal shares.  Now, though, computer power is so cheap and network connectivity so ubiquitous, it ought to be easy for every participant to go in and say, "I don't need any kohlrabi, I only need one pound of kale, but I want all the green beans I can get"--and have software take everyone's preferences and turn them into "fair" allocations where everyone gets as much of whatever they want as possible without depriving anyone else.

That, combined with local delivery, has the potential to solve a lot of the practical problems that poor people face.  Not the basic problem of working too hard for too many hours in neighborhoods that lack basic services--but still a lot.

At least, that's my fantasy.

Guest's picture

One of the best explorations of this issue I've read.

Guest's picture
poor boomer

lucille said:

The rich man spends $300 on one pair of boots, he has them resoled every few years for a small fee and wears the boots for decades. The poor man buys poor quality shoes for $50 but has to replace them every six months. The shoes can not be repaired and do not last long. Guess who ended up spending more money on boots.

YES! This is one of my Pet Peeves About Poverty. There are so many "diseconomies" of poverty that I want to write a book about them.

Another one: How do you maximize home energy efficiency when you're renting, you have no long-term tenure, and you do not own any leasehold (energy-efficiency) improvements you make?

Guest's picture
Cheap Yankee

My love affair with Walmart and low prices ended when Sam Walton died and his "buy American" campaign died with it. I may not be rich, but I refuse to shop there unless I absolutely, positively, after several failed tries to buy the product elsewhere. I refuse to give my family poisonous products and clothing made by other children. I'm not a "green freak" and actually quite frugal, but a gal's got to have her standards!

Young people don't NEED brand new furniture and dishes from Ikea to set up their first apartment. They can live with mismatched dishes and a box spring on the floor for a few months until they earn enough to pay cash for new things. What they -DO- need is a job with health benefits and a living wage so they can afford that apartment in the first place. Oh ... and I grew up making my own clothes as well and, though a chore ... it's not rocket science.

There -WAS- a balancing point between globalization and protectionism achieved in this country during the 1950's and 1960's where most people prospered and could afford nice things, but not every single nice thing advertised on 120 channels of cable television. People made choices based on what they could afford, not based on how many credit card offers they had. Industry was forced to compete with other countries, but lost tax revenues from lost jobs were offset by modest tariffs so there wasn't this constant sickening battle between funding the schools versus funding firemen. Tax codes were written so the biggest corporations didn't escape taxation by shifting costs overseas and also to discourage excessive executive compensation. Most people had jobs with benefits, pensions, and could afford to live in a modest, comfortable home in their local community, but they weren't "rich."

We need to return to that balancing point, or else our economy will collapse under the weight of the imbalance like a Ponzi scheme. Oops!!! I forgot. Isn't that what's happening right now? Only now it's not just "bridge" jobs that have been shipped overseas, but high-wage jobs like programmers, engineers, chemists, scientists, x-ray technicians, accountants, you name it. What goes around ... comes around.

I think the "shop local" phenomenon is a result of upper-middle classes who initially bought into "free trade" to fatten their 401K accounts are now seeing their jobs go overseas and realizing what happens to the farmer up the street and the hardware store owner can happen to them. All chickens come home to roost...

Guest's picture

@Guest -

Your examples of Thai sauce is funny, but also reminded me that I have used a lot of soy sauce in my life, and most of it was made in the USA, in Wisconsin. I've eaten a lot of rice, and it was mostly from Calfornia. I've eaten a lot of tofu, probably tons, and it was produced locally. All the exotic vegetables were grown locally in California. Until recently, the fish was mostly local too, the farthest sources being Hawaii. Same for noodles - until recently, most were produced in the US, not imported. Without a doubt, we bought a lot of imported tea, seasonings, dry goods, kelp, and other unusual things, but, the majority of my "Japanese" cultural experience was grown or produed domestically. (Including cars.)

So, you can have a global, international experience that's mostly produced here.

A few import quotas and tariffs probably figured into the story above.

The reason why there's political pressure for globalization isn't because the government wants us all to have an international kum-ba-ya experience. It's because rich lobbyists are working for big corporations that wanted to expand into other countries, make stuff there, and then "import" it back into America without paying a tariff. That's how it started.

@madjayhawk - yer fulla it.

Wal Mart's profit margin is higher than the other stores, meaning the workers make less per hour than they deserve. Wal Mart is the elitist, to think they shouldn't give people a small raise instead of taking the money and giving it away as dividends to bankers and rich investors.

Do this long enough (see above) and you end up with excessive wealth at the top, and poverty at the bottom, and economic crises that eventually "even out" the situation. (Now, if they even it out by giving more to the rich, like they do with the bailout, the next crisis is going to be even worse, if you catch my drift.)

My community fought Wal-Mart because it was going into a vacant lot zoned for an office (where wage could be higher right), because they wanted the city to pay for a big sign, and they want to operate 24 hours a day next to a residentially zoned area full of old people.

Yes, we're all elistists here in an area where the median house price is below the county's median.

Yes, we're elitists because we didn't want to give Wal-Mart special favors.


Poor people breastfeed, but poor people who work have a hard time breastfeeding. Most, poor people, at least in cities, come here to work, and they work long hours. There's a law that says women are supposed to have a room to express breast milk. That's nice, but, there are a lot of workplaces where people get treated lousy and don't get regular breaks.

Also, if you're poor and get WIC, that'll pay for formula.

There's another bacteria-sharing trend we need to bring back -- pre-mastication. Chew up food for your child, and then give it to them to eat. I told this to my friend, because my mom did it for me. My friend was disgusted. Eventually, after a second child, she came around to the logic of it. (The main risk is spreading a disease to the child early. Figure out what diseases you have that you might not want to transmit.)


You said it. Even since I moved back to a lower-middle class part of L.A., all the eco-friendly-globally-trendy stuff I learned up in Berkeley was hard to find, and over time it became hard to learn about what was trendy, until the internet. By then, I didn't care. This is in freakin Los Angeles suburbs.

Now I just have simple rules: eat everything I buy, don't buy on impulse, try to give it away, and try to get it free or used.

And I'm a liberal bleeding-heard. I voted for Obama, and I'm pissed at his conservative cabinet, and he's not even in office yet. That dude they got for Dept. of Interior ... what a mess.

@poor boomer

Will the landlord pay for weatherstripping and window film?

I cover windows with 1 inch foam insulation panels.

Another tactic is to steal electricity from the outdoor lights to power your heater. Just kidding.

@Cheap Yankee

We probably don't see eye to eye, but you said it right, like Malcolm X "All chickens come home to roost..."

Globalization isn't right when people around the world are working more, and making less money, and when they fuel their modern industries but leave their masses in poverty. We need a global 40 hour work week, global health care rights, and global reasonable environmental standards. These need to be better standards, not worse ones.

I don't see a return to the 1950s and 1960s though. We'd just gone through the New Deal, which was as close to Socialism as we got. Unions were powerful and pervasive. The USSR was looming large, putting pressure on our government to support our "proletariat".

All this globalization mania went gangbusters after the Berlin Wall fell. It was both Republicans and Democrats doing it. Trust the market for anything was their belief.

Now, we're getting back to the bad old days of privatized fire fighters, "gold bugs", cash in the mattress, and homeless encampents.

I'm reading a book, Fascism and Big Business, about the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy, written around 1938, by Guerin. The parts about the collapses and the bailouts and the confusion and whatnot, are like reading about today.

Guest's picture
Mats, Malmö, Sweden

And your analysis, Philip, eccoes well with the argument laid out by Swedish writer Johan Norberg in his 2003 book In defence of Global Capitalism. You might want to check it out. Amazon seems to be temporarily out of stock but it looks like it is available at the Cato Store. Or try your local library if your like me:)