So if you're reading me, you probably know the Portlandia bit about the couple at the restaurant asking if their chicken was raised locally.
Here's another version from Cobb, The New Retail, thinking at the global scale:
Customer: .... which shirts would you recommend?
Clerk: Those that you are looking at for $35 are very popular..
Customer: ..but you would recommend those behind the counter which cost more.
Clerk: You are very perceptive sir. These fine shirts behind me are of the highest quality American linen.
Customer: And these out here?
Customer: Hmm. They look almost identical. I can't really tell the difference.
Clerk: Allow me to explain. The American shirt is made by English speaking Americans who were born and raised in this country and whose parents were citizens. They are union workers who get full benefits including premium & catastrophic health care, vision & dental flex care, 401k, 529 contribution matching, profit sharing, tuition reimbursement ....
And that in turn reminds me of one of my favorite things I've ever read, a long essay from The Exile, Elite Versus Elitny, which I had thought I had already blogged but it seems I have not.
But there are some things which make poverty more tolerable. Wal-Mart for one. I’d moved to Louisville with not even a fork or a spoon. Wal-Mart sells all that — hamper, dishes, utensils, dish rack, sheets, telephones, you name it — for prices so incredibly low that I was genuinely grateful. I thought about Wal-Mart’s union busting, its abused work staff of geriatrics and economically desperate wage slaves, its stocks of Third World products which in turn further destroyed America’s manufacturing, its aesthetic Sovietization of America… and then I thought about my own shitty fiscal situation. Conclusion: “Fuck ‘em.”
Wal-Mart is one of the few bones with a little meat on it that America throws to its tens of millions of lower-middle and semi-middle classes. Goods that once may have been unattainable are now attainable, almost free, thanks to union busting, employee abuse, Third World slave labor, the destruction of over-priced ma and pa stores, the homogenization of Middle America and every other horrible sin. When I said “Fuck ‘em,” I didn’t mean it in the sense that I’d turned coat and gone right-populist like some David Horowitz. I just meant that I needed those cheap dishes. And I understood how, from the point of view of the economically struggling millions, you could mistrust and loathe all the natty left-wing intellectuals, all the rasta-haired, chin-studded anti-consumerists who want to steal that one bone that you’ve been given: access to goods. Goods that allow you to keep from slipping down yet another terrifying notch on America’s cruel socio-economic fortress walls.
The global economy creates systemic challenges which require that we address them at a systemic level. Trying to shop responsibly is worth doing, but we shouldn't imagine that it's a solution.
Not that regulation is unproblematic. Bruce Sterling's novella Kiosk, in which there are surprising repercussions when a guy operating a street kiosk in Eastern Europe (Borislav) starts operating a gray-market 3D printer, dramatizes that problem well.
Mrs. Damov spoke up. “I can't believe your fascist, technocratic nonsense! Do you really imagine that you will improve the lives of the people by dropping some weird machine onto their street at random? With no mature consideration of any deeper social issues? I wanted to pick up some milk tonight! Who's manning your kiosk, you goldbricker? Your store is completely empty! Are we supposed to queue?”
Mr. Savic emptied his glass. “Your fabrikator is great fun, but piracy is illegal and immoral. Fair is fair, let's face it.”
“Fine," said Borislav, waving his arms, “if that's what you believe, then go tell the people. Tell the people in this café, right now, that you want to throw the future away! Go on, do it! Say you're scared of crime! Say they're not mature enough and they have to think it through. Tell the people that they have to vote for that!”
“Let's not be hasty,” said Savic.
“Your sordid mechanical invention is useless without a social invention,” said Mrs. Damova primly.
“My wife is exactly correct!” Damov beamed. “Because a social invention is much more than gears and circuits, it's…well, it's something like that kiosk. A kiosk was once a way to drink tea in a royal garden. Now it's a way to buy milk! That is social invention!” He clicked her bubbling glass with his own.
Ace mulled this over. “I never thought of it that way. Where can we steal a social invention? How do you copy one of those?”
These were exciting questions. Borislav felt a piercing ray of mental daylight. “That European woman, what's-her-face. She bought out my kiosk. Who is she? Who does she work for?”
“You mean Dr. Grootjans? She is, uh…she's the economic affairs liaison for a European Parliamentary investigative committee.”
“Right," said Borislav at once, "that's it. Me, too! I want that. Copy me that! I'm the liaison for the investigation Parliament something stupid-or-other.”
Savic laughed in delight. “This is getting good.”
“You. Mr. Savic. You have a Parliament investigation committee.”
“Well, yes, I certainly do.”
“Then you should investigate this fabrikator. You place it under formal government investigation. You investigate it, all day and all night. Right here on the street, in public. You issue public reports. And of course you make stuff. You make all kinds of stuff. Stuff to investigate.”
“Do I have your proposal clear? You are offering your fabrikator to the government?”
“Sure. Why not? That's better than losing it. I can't sell it to you. I've got no papers for it. So sure, you can look after it. That's my gift to the people.”
Savic stroked his chin. “This could become quite an international issue.” Suddenly, Savic had the look of a hungry man about to sit at a bonfire and cook up a whole lot of sausages.
“Man, that's even better than making it a stupid art project,” Ace enthused. “A stupid government project! Hey, those last forever!”
We need to be thinking about these things in a more sophisticated way.