We shoppers irk local merchants when, despite layoffs, bankruptcies and shortage of government revenue accompanying the sharpest economic slowdown in recent memory, many of us continue to buy things on the Internet.
Many purchases are from sources so distant that our dollars can't find their way back to this community. But if we buy locally, the money is recycled immediately in paychecks, taxes, advertising, banking, insurance, real estate and countless other ways that strengthen the local economy.
A campaign called "Backyard Economics: Local Spending Works" makes a timely plea to buy as much as you can as close to your hometown as you can. It's generally good advice as evidenced by the variety of groups pushing the effort.
For every $100,000 California residents spend out of state, California loses one job. With spending on remote Internet sales now something like $12 billion a year, California is losing lots of jobs and lots of sales tax revenue.
No one is demanding that you buy only local all the time or sacrifice your freedom as a consumer to benefit from national and global markets. The request from business leaders is simply that you be sensitive to the reality that buying from someone who supports the local economy also helps support fire and police protection, schools and jobs for your neighbors.
Several other factors also must be kept in mind. One is that California's economy also depends on selling many things out of state, and another is that communities around the world are starting their own buy-local campaigns.
Lincolnshire County in Great Britain has a buy-local campaign called "Lincolnshire Bites Back." A filmmaker at the University of Alabama has launched a project called "Eating Alabama." He and his wife are living only on things grown or raised there. He won't eat a Florida orange because it didn't come from an Alabama tree.
"If everyone in this state made a concerted effort to buy locally raised vegetables and meats," he says, "we could put a huge amount of money back into our economy."
A buy-local campaign in Michigan echoes the same theme.
Before this all goes too far, everyone needs to also think about what would happen if we circle the economic wagons too tightly. We wouldn't all be better off. A vacation on Lake Michigan wouldn't be the same as one on the Gulf of Mexico. And to keep Michigan's dairies working at their present pace in economic isolation, every man, woman and child in the state would have to drink a quart of Michigan milk a day.
Helping the local economy doesn't require folks in Alabama to swear off oranges or folks in Florida to give up Wisconsin cheese.
What everyone should do is think about the power of their choices.
A music retailer who started a buy-local campaign in Minnesota makes an important point: "People vote with their dollars every day to decide what stays and what goes."
So consider which local stores, restaurants and services you want to see survive the recession, and make an extra effort to give them some extra business.
You might not realize how some of the money will come right back to you, but you'll feel better knowing that it will.