I think that the lifestyle that Ms. Kingsolver chose is great. I'm glad that she gets so much reward from it. But while she says that she's not trying to tell anyone else what to do, those words don't match with her conviction that what she's done is ethical and failing to do that is not. That lifestyle is really not sustainable for most of the rest of us. Speaking for myself, I am scarcely able to keep the grass in my yard from dying in the N. Carolina summer. So much less would I be able to grow a garden or raise livestock to live off of. Were that a requirement, I'd almost certainly starve to death.
And this is the crux of the problem: when she suggests that this is the only ethical way to live, she ignores the wealth that is created in the world by specialization and division of labor. Considering that death is the likely alternative, it's simply better for me to have someone else grow my food. I am better off specializing in the things that I do well, and buying my food from someone who is good at producing it. The economist David Ricardo called this comparative advantage.
It is really difficult to measure the benefits to humanity that accrue from trading in our comparative advantages. Human lives are saved by it. Turning back to a way of life that does not allow for this, necessarily means deciding which ones of us will die.
If we were to enforce the idea of buying locally, that would also impose a cost in human lives. How we purchase food has emerged out of a discovery process of finding those who have a comparative advantage at producing it. Trading with those who don't have that comparative advantage means making ourselves poorer and those who do have the comparative advantage poorer. This is not sustainable for either of us.
The lifestyle that Ms Kingsolver leads is glorious. I'm happy for her. But it is a luxury that she is able to do it. Advocating that we all do it would have economic costs of increased worldwide poverty. And poverty kills. I think that saving human lives is a much higher ethical priority.
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