Whether Pittsburgh gets its sixth Super Bowl ring or Arizona gets its first, our focus needs to quickly shift to winning in the economic arena. We need to help our manufacturing firms stay competitive and find qualified workers, and we need to help our entrepreneurs get the financing and customers they need to ride out the recession.
Everyone can help by buying local products and using local vendors, which helps keep money circulating in our region rather than somewhere else, supporting the jobs in our economy.
That last graf is a common refrain in the region. It also overstates the case. Douglas Irwin in the New York Times makes a related point: The "Buy Local" argument is necessary only if local goods are more expensive or lower quality than comparable goods from elsewhere. If local goods offer better value, ordinarily we'll buy them anyway, with or without an appeal to the "Buy Local" claim. In that case "Buy Local" is a harmless slogan. But "Buy Local" in and of itself may mean "overpay" for goods and services, presumably in the name of local job preservation.
But whose jobs? As Irwin implies, we have a fixed amount of money to spend. Should I overpay for this but not for that? How do I choose? When do I measure "value" in terms of my bank account, my assets, and my preferences, and when do I measure "value" in terms of what someone else thinks is in the best interests of the local economy?
I can't. If I have $100 to spend on a basket of goods and services, I'm going to look for $100 of value as I define it, whether those goods and services are produced here or elsewhere, and most of the time, I'm looking to measure that according my own household economics. To be honest, when I read Harold's column my first reaction wasn't to make the connection to Irwin; Irwin is an economist and a well-known free trader. My first reaction was that the Terrible Towel, Pittsburgh's and Myron Cope's The Official Terrible Towel, is manufactured in Wisconsin. If Buy Local and Local Manufacturing really are all that, then why doesn't that business get placed locally? My best guess is that the Allegheny Valley School is doing what I do, and that's fine with me. They need jobs in Wisconsin, too.