‘Shopping local’ argument not about external limits, but internal grace

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The Wall Street Journal says Chattanooga has one of the strongest local economies in the U.S. How can residents make that claim true for themselves?

I greatly appreciate feedback and criticisms for our theory of local economy, especially as we perceive a Christian interest in the theme “love your neighbor — shop local.” One set of jabs comes from people who are jealous of the prerogatives of the free market, and suspect my idea of local economy may be a trap that limits people’s liberty.

How can anyone talk about local economy in the age of the microchip, Facebook and the Internet? Am I suggesting local economy is a bowl over your hometown, beyond which you cannot go or trade, beyond which your emails or business contracts cannot penetrate? Let the assault begin.

What exactly is local? Where does local stop? Are you against trading with other states? Are you against trading with others on the other side of the world? Are you against people moving away from their parents beyond your imposed local border? Are people never to travel? Are people never to communicate outside of your “local” prison walls? Do you have problems with people who are born outside of your “local” zone? Are they evil and to be avoided?

I suspect that this barrage of questions by a Christian gentleman rises from a great love of liberty and freedom. The vigor of his questions is not intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, but mount a ready defense of the free market.

CHRISTIANITY OPERATES by grace, poured out by God upon rebels He chooses to redeem. So grace permeates a Christian’s understanding of economics. We defend free markets because they imply grace, an absence of force or coercion, particularly by those who wrest controls of the state for their own benefit. When God extends grace to sinners, it’s not from God’s self-interest except for His obtaining glory. Extending grace to me, a sinner, is not because He needs me or is enriched or aggrandized by me. He extends grace for the glory of saving me, and the benefit is mine.

So — no, local economy is not about external constraints on the consumer. It is not about trade controls, currency controls, licensure of movement or any other such evil that would compel a man, business or family to do anything, or abstain from any lawful thing.

Local economy is a mere suggestion that we consider grace in our commerce. It’s strength is internal and willing.

Grace brings to mind considerations other than price, self-interest and gain. Grace lets you account for the person with whom you trade. The one with whom you trade is one you support. We easily forget this point. When I shop at Wal-Mart, I patronize all the might and greatness it represents — the market muscle, the gigantic power, the super-low prices (though Aldi on Highway 153 beats ‘em.) We support the operation for mutual profit.

So a locale is not a prison beyond which we cannot travel, nor an obligation that we design and manufacture our own pencils or cars. The idea of local economy is more gracious than that, and more supple. It’s not a whip. It’s a smile. A handshake.

THE SPACE IN LOCAL economy is not tinier because it is local, but greater. Local economy better encompasses the world than does the daily report in the Wall Street Journal.

“Mr. Rudyard Kipling has asked in a celebrated epigram what they can know of England who know England only. It is a far deeper and sharper question to ask, ‘What can they know of England who know only the world?’” Localism is not narrowness, but breadth. G.K. Chesterton, who writes the above quote, weighs in on this question in his priceless essay about localism vs. globalism, about which I intend to tell you.

Learn about the multiplier effect of local economy. This link is for a graphic that explains it. LocalMultiplierEffect.

[This essay was originally published October 2012.]

David Tulis, a deacon at Brainerd Hills Presbyterian Church, is married and the father of four children.

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