My time with the Herald Weekly is over.

I was informed by the Herald Weekly on December 1 my columns would no longer be accepted because of a “firestorm of backlash” in response to my column published on November 24. The column is reprinted below. My editor said advertisers were “considering pulling multi-thousand dollar contracts, and we’ve had businesses say they will never advertise with us,” but she declined to disclose the identity of any of these advertisers or those threatening a boycott of the paper. Thus far, I have not had a single one of these courageous individuals or businesses express their disagreements with the column to me directly. I can’t really blame the Herald for being so quick to give in to threats of a boycott rather than stand up for free speech, but for those of us still hopeful in thinking other rational adults are interested in the open exchange of ideas it is yet another disappointment.

I know of at least one advertiser – the taxpayer subsidized Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatic center – dropping ads from the Herald in Spring 2016 after I merely questioned why taxpayer dollars were being used to subsidize a gym. The fact that the town of Huntersville is still susidizing an organization that punishes dissent is baffling.

I am extending an open invitation to any individual or business or municipality that threatened the Herald with financial repercussions if they allowed my columns to continue to publicly state their reasons for disagreement in the comments section so we can attempt a dialogue. I won’t be holding my breath. My columns may not be running in the Herald any longer, but that’s the great thing about the internet, they let anyone write just about anything here. And I welcome Herald readers who may have enjoyed my past columns to follow me here for future musings on local government and other exciting topics.


To Shop Big or Small For The Holidays?

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again already, but whether to shop big or to shop small for Christmas is the question. Should you support the local businesses in your community by buying local or support the nameless, faceless shareholders of some giant corporation by buying at a big box retail store?

Small Business Saturday (the national marketing scheme developed in 2010 by American Express to incentivize more shoppers to use their Amex credit cards during the holidays) will take place again this Saturday, Nov. 26, so I decided another column on the merits of the buy local movement was in order.

Let me just repeat at the outset so as not to be misunderstood by readers – local entrepreneurs should be encouraged, and successful local business models should be recognized. I am well aware of the benefits of small businesses, including how many jobs are created every year by small businesses locally and nationwide. I consider myself pro-market not pro-business, however, and I do not think it is a proper function of local government to promote “local” businesses over other businesses.

Ideas help to shape public policy. The ideas behind the seemingly innocuous “buy local” movement are no exception and locally the consequences are demonstrated most clearly by Davidson’s “Turn Around Shop in Town” campaign.

The Town of Davidson’s website kindly reminds its residents that, “instead of driving to our neighboring towns to make purchases, we’d like everyone to turn around and shop in town!”

The catchy slogan used to promote Davidson’s buy local campaign could just as easily be read as an imperative instead of a recommendation.

Just think of the economic benefits that could be generated if a town levied a fine against residents who did their shopping elsewhere, or, if it a town simply mandated its residents do all of their shopping at local businesses within town!

Of course, every other community bordering that town would naturally respond to that town’s actions and mandate residents also do all of their shopping within each respective town, which would generate even more in economic benefits, right? No more money escaping the confines of our local communities because of residents jumping on Amazon from the comfort of their homes and fulfilling all of their shopping needs with just the click of a few buttons.

This may sound absurd but not to someone who believes the unsupported figures cited on Davidson’s website that local businesses return more money to the community than chain stores.

Why exactly keeping more money in the community matters is never actually explained by the economic development managers and buy local supporters who cite such figures, as if money itself is the key to prosperity. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention in economics back in college, but I always understood increased productivity as a result of labor specialization and economies of scale to be the key to prosperity – the opposite of what the buy local movement advocates.

Last year I listed a few questions you could pose to buy local supporters. Here is an updated list in case you feel like arguing about something other than the presidential election over Thanksgiving dinner.

Most importantly – how do you define local? Why does keeping more money in the local economy matter? Why is buy local so often linked just with food – why not a buy local smartphone movement? Should buying local (or only buying things Made In America) be mandated by law or just enforced through public shaming on social media?

I don’t begrudge Davidson or American Express their marketing schemes – but let’s dispense with the notion that anyone believes we should revert to a subsistence economy. Ultimately, the #buylocal movement is just another way to let everyone on social media know you care more than they do.

For a more thorough discussion on this topic, I would recommend “The Locavore’s Dilemma” by Pierre Desrochers & Hiroko Shimizu, but only if you can find a copy at a local bookstore.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!