The Free Market is What the Free Market Demands

Call it an instinct, a personal goal or a hard and fast rule: the commitment to invest in American-made goods is good business. So why does it always feel like the forsaken new year’s resolution? Shop Local has favorable footing in communities throughout the country, but tracking down items you can’t find in your own region requires time and effort. In a one-click economy, even good business can struggle to get traction.

There are the disciplined few who have loyally carried the Made in America torch through the economy’s ups and downs, but globalization has exposed the majority of us to be the friend who only comes around when we need something—at best. At worst, we bite the hand that feeds us and sometimes to the point of ruin. This moment in history will sadly mark just such a reality for many businesses. For those deemed essential and permitted to carry on, they will have rallied in our time of ultimate need by shouldering a panicked and vulnerable nation. But when the dust settles the balance sheets won’t work for many of them. After hustling around the clock, under unprecedented restrictions and ramping up staff to make sure “we’re all in this together”, how many no-longer panicked customers will remain? 

Catching up this week with a friend and local farmer in my community left me with quasi survivor’s guilt. This farmer and her family have spent 20 years scratching out a living selling locally raised chicken, beef and pork. Twenty years trying to attract regulars who are willing to wait longer, buy nose to tail and spend more for the natural order of ethical animal husbandry. Twenty years building relationships so customers don’t abandon them when coyotes wipe out the next brood of chickens and they can’t stock poultry inventory for three months. Then, in March 2020, bare patches started to show on the shelves of the Supermarkets and my farmer friend became the most popular girl in the room. She said it was like being hit by a truck. Not only did her family have to close their storefront because every freezer was picked clean, she is now unable to secure a butcher date for her recurring orders because every small farm in the area is suddenly in the same position. People tell her she should be grateful for the business. In the meantime, first-time customers are swarming and sending texts that read: ordering 2 dozen eggs 10 lb ground beef 2 whole chickens. will b there 1 hour. 

Our supply chain has become so enormous and centralized that it’s vulnerable to any sudden changes, a weakness we are now learning about the hard way. We have not been faithful keepers of our homegrown business ecosystem and that neglect has been laid bare. If we want a robust market place to truly call our own, we need to generate demand and show up as customers 365 days a year. The entire commerce landscape has sustained untold trauma that we won’t fully comprehend for years to come. In the meantime, the way we collectively go about piecing everything back together will decipher our thesis for recovery. Although our country is suffering right now, there is a case to be made for optimism. The 2020 state-by-state lockdown has taken a sledge hammer to our economy, but it has also awakened a sleeping giant.

Voting with your wallet works. It’s the pattern of consumer behavior that can turn the tide. I’m mortified that I’ve given such short shrift to Made in America all these years, but there’s still a chance for a course correction. I’m an average person; so my gut reaction is not unique. The number of Americans examining their retail debauchery (going back to the point when Amazon Prime sidled into our lives) could be in the millions. Millions of individuals potentially abandoning one ruinous consumer habit: the careless click.