Shopping vs. trading, or how Amazon feeds the self-centered consumer

Buying from a locally owned store enhances the multiplier effect of a given dollar bill.

Buying from a locally owned store enhances the multiplier effect of a given dollar bill.

By David Tulis

We sit agog before our TV sets looking at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Chattanooga. The facility employs thousands, is equivalent to 28 football fields and sent out many of the 26½ million orders filed on Monday alone with the company. It has 80 such centers, 40 in the U.S., and is said by Bloomburg to operate the fastest- growing website.

The system of conveyer belts connecting stock aisles and packing stations reflects the acme of organization. The genius of America is clearly displayed in the cavernous Amazon plant. With huge growth ahead and an effort to become all things to all people.

Amazon in Chattanooga defies the dictum of localism that smaller is better. Indeed, when one considers the scale of its operation one can only agree with the genius of Jeff Bezos and his collaborators. Reflecting the height of scientific management and integrated systems, Amazon relies on centralization overall and decentralization geographically.

On Cyber Monday in the Chattanooga Times Free Press appeared a story on “fair trade” under a subhead, “By selling with a global conscience, local stores try to make sure everyone gets what’s coming to them.” They buy from artisans in Nepal and South America. Reporter Karen Nazor Hill interviewed Brad Tomlinson and his wife, Victoria York, who run a Hixson retail gift shop, Good World Goods. The story is a striking contrast with coverage the next day about Amazon, with the small-shop interests seemingly trite and sentimental. “My husband and I have always strived to be socially aware. We were both blessed to have parents who taught us empathy and have an appreciation for the arts, so we knew when we opened our store we wanted to focus on giving back and acquiring goods that are ethically sourced.”

Is a highly technological and centralized system always the best? Does Amazon beat Good World Goods, and bump it, as it were, into another dimension wholly devoid of the essentials of price, volume, availability and speed? Amazon achieves its ends in centralizing and obtaining a huge scale; it serves its customers and aims to please. Nothing like it can exist in a planned economy, such as that of the former Soviet Union or such as Venezuela’s.

Do you realize that the scientific management scheme pervades American culture — that of hometown Chattanooga and those hometowns of many others?

➤ Public schools in Hamilton County, Tenn., and every other county in the U.S. are built pursuant the designs of social science practitioners in the first half of the 20th century. Public schools are centralized factories and warehouses for students, whom are credited as being the rising generation of consumers, users of media, users of bank credit and participants in the voting franchise.

➤ The welfare state itself uses the Amazon model where a personal relationship and any sort of accountability are, truly, patently absurd. George Grant and Marvin Olasky, among others, who have written about homelessness and welfare say that apart from personal accountability under a system of ethics such as Christianity, no reformation is possible in the lives of the poor. Instead, statist welfare decapitalizes recipients by creating incentives to remain on the dole.

Trading vs. buying

Country people often talk about “trading.” “Yeah, I trade with so-and-so,” a man’ll say. People in the city talk of buying or shopping. A subtle difference exists between trading and buying. When you go to buy something, you are a consumer; your whole perspective is on you, is about you, focuses on your advantage. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you are being selfish or greedy. But someone who buys things views his transactions solely from his perspective. Someone who trades, I suspect, has a more holistic view of any transaction. He accounts for the other person, perhaps has confidence in that person, prefers to trade with that person because he knows him or has a history with him. He realizes that by sticking to doing business with that one person he is supporting him, endorsing him, favoring him, giving him a living.

Consumers shop at Amazon. People who trade might obtain a book, instead, from David Smotherman at Winder Binder gallery and bookshop on the now fashionable North Shore of Chattanooga. An important advantage accrues to people who trade vs. buy. They appreciate the smallness and inefficiency of the locally owned shop. They are interested in a relationship with the keeper of the shop. They have time for chit chat. A purchase is not entirely about them, but about the future. It looks ahead, and not just into a mirror, as it were, to favor the individual.

Not only that. Studies indicate local economy prospers when people adhere to the happy slogan, “Love your neighbor —buy local.” When you buy local, you support a business that keeps its profit locally, with charitable giving, local resupply and employment. From a dollar spent in a national store, as little as a third recirculates in local economy. From a buck spent in a local store, two thirds recirculates locally, enhancing local economy.

Sources: Karen Nazor Hill, “Fair trade[;] By selling with a global conscience, local stores try to make sure everyone gets what’s coming to them,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Dec. 2, 2013

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