Robert Reich on Consumerism

In Robert Reich’s latest column in the New York Times I have finally found a mainstream voice for my own thoughts. Although I despise Wal-Mart and never shop there, I don’t actually blame Wal-Mart executives or Sam Walton for the destruction of downtown shopping districts. That decimation lies squarely on the shoulders of American consumers: so besotted with “rolled back prices” that they forget that the money they pay for goods at Wal-Mart leaves their community thereby impoverishing it.

Now one forces us to buy books from Amazon instead of the local bookstore. As Reich admits:

The problem is, the choices we make in the market don’t fully reflect our values as workers or as citizens. I didn’t want our community bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., to close (as it did last fall) yet I still bought lots of books from In addition, we may not see the larger bargain when our own job or community isn’t directly at stake. I don’t like what’s happening to airline workers, but I still try for the cheapest fare I can get.

Recently, I’ve been trying to find a shop in Newburyport that sells Levi’s jeans. (Of course, Anna would like me to make the switch to No Sweat Apparel, but I’m comfortable with Levi’s even if they are no longer made in the USA.) We have both a Marshall’s and a K-Mart in the shopping plazas, but I’d much rather find a merchant downtown who sells jeans. Hell, I’d love to find a merchant downtown who will be willing to even order a pair of Levi’s for me even if he doesn’t normally carry them.

I’ll admit that I also buy a fair number of books and CDs from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. While we lived in Rhinebeck, my excuse was that few of the books I was looking for were available from either the library or the local bookstores. But that was just a cop out.

When I lived in Seattle, I prided myself on only purchasing from local merchants (where at all possible) even if I had to pay a premium for the privilege. I bought my Wüstof Dreizack knives from a Market merchant. I bought my pots and pans from another shop that specialised in kitchenware. I did have to visit Bed Bath & Beyond several times because, oddly enough, none of the small merchants carried things like brooms or mops.

Now that I once again live in a town with a vibrant shopping district (even if it does cater to tourists), I feel it only makes sense to support those merchants by shopping here first. I know it will mean we pay a bit more for the things we buy, but if it makes us think a bit more about our purchases, so much the better.