In the age of the internet, we often hear arguments of whether it’s better to shop online or buy locally. In general, I’m not sure there’s a cut and dry answer. One reason is because people’s individual economic circumstances vary so much. The reality is that sometimes products cost you much more at your local store than they do ordering on your computer. Not to mention the benefits of having things delivered to your doorstep. That’s kind of nice too.
Some years back, my wife and I had finally had enough of doing our Christmas shopping locally. Even with skipping the fiasco known as Black Friday, I despised nearly everything about fulfilling wishes on Christmas lists. The store hopping, horribly long lines, inability to find certain items, etc. finally drove me to put my foot down— unless absolutely necessary, we were done shopping locally during the holiday season. Heck, oftentimes the prices weren’t even that great.
As it turns out, shopping online was so much better of an experience that it morphed beyond a seasonal event for us. Before I knew it, we were doing things like buying certain food items that were not only far cheaper, but were delivered to our home at no charge. Online ordering became our friend.
Not everyone has embraced the world of online purchases like we have. I personally know folks who insist on buying locally. Some of them even go as far as refusing — where possible — to buy from any place besides businesses owned by locals. For them, places like Walmart aren’t even a consideration in their shopping activities.
As it turns out, debates of whether to buy online or locally extend into the sphere of government as well. As Jill Schramm wrote for the Minot Daily News today, at least one North Dakota county feels the lure of Amazon for purchases. According to Schramm:
“Ward County commissioners heard from a few department heads Tuesday as they considered how far to go in buying online versus purchasing locally.”
Highway engineer Dana Larsen thinks county officials should look at a variety of account options with Amazon. As Larsen pointed out to commission members, doing so provides opportunities to purchase things online that might not be found locally. And in addition to that, it’s an opportunity to save taxpayers some money.
While commissioners voted 5-0 to authorize establishing a “basic” Amazon account over the course of the next year, the go ahead wasn’t done without questioning. Commissioner Alan Walter asked:
“Does Amazon own any property here that they pay real estate taxes on?”
“Do they have any employees that live here that pay real estate taxes?”
“We can’t find these deals without going through this?”
As is also pointed out in Schramm’s article, buying from outside vendors is nothing new for local governments. But the hitch for some seems to be in those situations where items are available locally, but are bought online anyhow.
Ward County isn’t the only one haggling with issues like these. Apparently the City of Minot is considering “a local preference option in its procurements and bid awards.” The president of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce thinks that because local businesses pay taxes, employ people who spend money locally, and sometimes donate to local causes, that there’s an argument for the idea.
So, where should government fall on this issue? If given the choice between buying locally or online, should the decision be to spend the dollars at local stores without any consideration given to the costs— all in the name of supporting the local economy? Or should government officials have the option to buy online and save the taxpayers some money?
I get the desire to support local businesses. I really do. But are these businesses going to fail if government goes elsewhere to find its products? If so, what does that say about the business? Does government’s purchasing things from local businesses at a higher cost — only for the sake of supporting them — essentially amount to utilizing taxpayer dollars to subsidize those businesses? Is that even appropriate? Does it open the door for government officials to essentially use their positions to give kickbacks to business owners? Doesn’t logic tell us that quality and price should factor into the equation?
There’s a number of factors at play in things like this, but at the end of the day, I think government has an obligation to be as limited and frugal as possible. If that means buying from Amazon, instead of the Mom & Pop Shop, then so be it.
I’m interested in your thoughts. Let us know in the comments on Facebook.
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