Buy Australian: About as sensible as F*ck Off We’re Full.

Dick Smith Foods is at risk of closing down. 

The not quite-iconic Australian brand has seen sales halve and its future is cloudy. But Aussies are voting with their feet. They are happy to buy from overseas.

Is this bad? Shouldn’t we buy Australian?

australian mde

I say buy it if the quality or price is good. But not if you have to trade off price or quality. I think this is an example of how global markets are actually a powerful force for good. Let me explain.

I like to think of myself as socially aware. But I take a Rawlsian approach to social justice. I think support is wasted unless it is aimed at the worst off. The very rich giving money to the merely rich is not really charity, in my view.

This is why I support the charity rating system Givewell. And also why I support global trade.

Trade with poor countries helps people who might otherwise live on $1 day, while buying Australian might be the difference between someone driving a car and catching the bus. Trade has helped 1 billion people move out of poverty in the last 20 years.  Those people aren’t under our nose, so its easy to forget about them when you’re considering whether to buy jeans made in China or jeans made in Australia.

The only reason to value the welfare of Australians above those of foreigners is unexamined subconscious bias. I think that bias should be brought into the open and tested for how it impacts our actions and how our actions impact the lives of others.

Here’s a little argument I got involved in online today, in response to someone noting that their crumbed fish fillets had been caught in NZ, crumbed in China and sold in Australia.:

A: Apparently that is cheaper than just doing everything in the same country

B: Oh nooooo, that would be more jobs for our people, and we’d have to pay them gasp!

Me: “our people”

C: Get back to us on this when you’re a gen Y uni graduate with no job, work experience or any connections.

So, Do you buy Australian? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.

Published by

thomasthethinkengine

Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

11 thoughts on “Buy Australian: About as sensible as F*ck Off We’re Full.”

  1. I prefer to buy fresh food from my local farmer’s market. Generally, I am quite happy to eat seasonally and locally. Except at Christmas, when all bets are off. :)

    I do preference Australian brands in processed food, providing they are of reasonable quality, and not prohibitively expensive. Having said that, there are a few items that aren’t produced/grown in Australia, so I buy those foods with a clear conscience; eg maple syrup and (frozen) cranberries

    In the case of Dick Smith foods, there are many other Australian brands offering the same products; eg, at least two others produce a “Vegemite” alternative. So I would be asking the question; are people not buying Australian brands, or are they buying other Australian products in preference to the Dick Smith brand?

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  2. One can choose to buy Australian for any number of reasons other than tribalism. Environmentalism (though you need to be careful to run the numbers here); supporting fair labour laws; self interest (it’s much nicer to live in a functioning economy); as a grassroots embargo against countries that do not have the same liberal trade laws as we do…

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    1. I generally agree if a person chooses to run personal embargoes as a way to promote a policy or political goal.

      But I’d argue they should result in an more selective approach. (E.g. buy nothing made in Myanmar), rather than a blanket preference for Australian products above all else.

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  3. Thank you for pointing this out. It’s rarely stated but it’s true.

    Of course, some sensible caveats have already been mentioned in the comments, and there are others to take into account.

    The possibilities that we could be supporting sweatshops, people working in dangerous conditions or even buildings that might collapse, large Western companies that are exploiting or abusing their workers, corrupt regimes, and any number of other problematic issues, makes it very difficult to decide in any particular case.

    And even if our beneficiaries are being wildly underpaid, exploited and made to work in dangerous circumstances, we might be saving them and their families from very extreme poverty, even death. Life in our Western world used to be much more dangerous and difficult while it was in the process of developing towards the “cicilized” state it’s now in.

    It’s an extremely complex world and we cannot be sure of every step we make, but I agree with your point that blindly putting Australians ahead of other inhabitants of this planet, simply because they are Australian, is, IN EFFECT, racist.

    However, importantly, I would argue that it’s almost never CONSCIOUSLY racist or even SUBCONSCIOUSLY racist. It’s just carelessly, thoughtlessly, and innocently racist. To say “Buy Australian, save our jobs, look after our own people” is simply something that seems obvious and right, whereas the truth is almost directly opposite.

    G.K. Chesterton would make much of this, were he around today, as he loved to point out such topsy-turvy misconceptions!

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  4. Recently bought jeans shirts jox sox air conditioner part fog washing machine none made in oz whisky from scotland cheese from nz beans from itsly but margarine is made in oz and fruit prob grown here kinda hard to buy australian

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  5. I agree a simplistic “buy Australian” is just that – simplistic and hypocritical since it is often done in a tokenistic way and not consistently practised. Trade is mostly good and we all benefit from it. That is quite a different thing to indifference to an incompetent industry policy that ignores national interest in terms of self sufficiency and the benefits of economic diversity and supply redundancy, as well as keeping skills transfer viable. The experiment of letting manufacturing die has not been run long enough to be declared a success.

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  6. That’s certainly a worthwhile approach (he says glibly, without having read the entire PDF).

    It was interesting to see the extensive reaction to the awful event with the building collapsing in Bangladesh. It’s a pity it had to take such a disaster, of course, but at least the resulting pressure on the major companies to take some responsibility for improving standards, and their response to that, showed some encouraging movement. I haven’t followed it through to find out how significant the outcome has been so far. Perhaps there was a lot of talk and little action.

    Anyway, continued communication, publicity, pressure, protest… all these things can slowly improve things. It will be a good day if we can ever say with confidence “Don’t buy Australian!” and be pretty sure that we will be helping people get out of poverty in other countries!

    Of course, even there, balance is needed. If we could carry out that plan to such an extent that Australian/Western business was reduced to tatters, that would be A Bad Thing – for us AND the third-world poor.

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  7. Comparative advantage goes against “Buy local no matter what”. Don’t grow beans or build cars if someone else can do better and cheaper. Maybe being an island (some say continent island) plays a mental trick and push towards nationalist favoritism.

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