Is it better to "buy local" instead of cheaply imported products from third-world countries? One might argue that it's better to support your local community, but surely we ought to be more cosmopolitan than that. Third-world workers need your custom more than your neighbour does. Granted, favouritism might be justified in case of pre-existing personal connections, but most of us don't personally know the producers of local products. But what if buying direct could help foster such connections, thereby strengthening local communities (in a more robust way than merely benefiting a local individual)? That may be a better argument -- what do you think? (Of course, this won't apply to indirect/retail purchases.)
For an alternative argument: some worry about wasting fossil fuels by transporting goods halfway across the world. But does shipping really have that much impact, compared to other sources of carbon emissions (e.g. cars, industry, etc.)? Doesn't this argument risk ignoring price signals? The fact that foreign products remain cheaper than local goods, even after the cost of transportation, seems to indicate significant differences in production efficiency. Those goods are easier to produce overseas; our bumbling efforts can't compare, so we would do better to specialize in some other area that we are better suited to.
This counterargument is flawed, of course, because the environmental damage caused by emissions is not factored into the price. So we can't really know whether foreign imports are all-things-considered more efficient after all. (Damn corporate feudalists, thwarting the free market with their unprincipled opposition to eco-taxes!) If the cheapness of foreign imports is due to this environmental vandalism -- damaging our common property without permission -- then it would presumably be better to buy local. The cheaper alternative is no more truly "efficient" than buying stolen goods. It's only cheap because you aren't paying the true price.
But what of the other case? Suppose that, even after adding appropriate eco-taxes, imported goods would still be cheaper than local produce. Should we nevertheless buy local, just to reduce the environmental impacts? Correct me if I'm wrong, but my limited understanding of economics suggests not. The cheap price here indicates efficiency: relatively little (incl. environmental) cost is being imposed in order to obtain the benefit of the end product. If we want to reduce environmental impacts -- and of course we should -- then we should invest our limited resources where they would have a greater effect. That is, we should buy the cheap goods from overseas, transport emissions be damned, but then use the saved money to make a much bigger difference elsewhere. Perhaps we could bribe an inefficient industry to cut down hugely on their unnecessary emissions, for instance.
If you spent all your money reducing transport emissions by "buying local", you could no longer afford the much greater environmental benefits obtained by (say) reforming industry. In light of this opportunity cost, then, buying local -- like buying hybrid cars or solar panels -- might, ironically, be bad for the environment.
A final argument for localism might appeal to the security value of self-sufficiency. You might worry that the current global system is unsustainable, and that we need to invest locally now, so that the farmland is available and ready to feed us when the ships cease to arrive. This raises questions about how likely such a doomsday scenario is, and how much more difficult it would be to adjust if we remain dependent on foreign imports. (Also, it plausibly only applies to food imports. Our "reliance" on imports from less essential industries would hardly matter if we could live without them altogether.)
Which is the best of the offered arguments? Have I missed any better ones? What's the verdict: is it better to buy local?