the double-duty dollar.

saturday, january 21st, 2023.

Andrew Roach started a great thread on the fediverse, and it got me thinking about how I engage with capitalism and the economy. In the thread, Andrew kicks off the discussion with this post:

Let's start with the vision:

I want to live my life outside the rule of megacorps and rent seekers.

I want to excise Extractive Economics and Surveillance Capitalism from my life.

I want to build a community that can sustain, that can keep it's money circulating within the community. A community that is built around the idea of enriching one another.

That's hard!

I remember some years ago having a discussion with a coworker and dear friend of mine. For context, he ran or had a hand in several local businesses. The discussion, which took place in small parts over many weeks & months, really got me to thinking about how I spend my money.

At the time, I was a prolific user of my Amazon Prime membership. It was always "this is so cheap!" or "wow, I can get this delivered in two days!" He would always point out the benefits of spending that money locally. He taught me about the history and benefits of Black-owned banks.

It took me a while for this mindset to, well, set. Even after becoming keenly aware of my environmental footprint and bicycle commuting instead of using my car (thanks in no small part to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth).

The concept of using my money ethically first had to wrestle with the convenience and price of spending my wages with the big companies. If I'm being honest, it still does. Though these days, I try to be mindful of reducing the harm my spending habits cause.

There's a concept called the "double-duty dollar" that resonates with me. The gist is that a dollar spent within a community (Black, LGBT, or otherwise) performs two duties:

  1. Purchases a good or service.
  2. Advances that community.

businesses think about this, too.

Since those talks with my friend, I've also run (and closed) my own local business. There's always a struggle between keeping your costs down and supporting the causes you believe in. Locally-produced goods cost more, don't have great logistics networks, and the costs must be passed on if your business is to succeed.

Take a restaurant, for example. Its costs can largely be broken into three categories:

  1. Fixed costs (utility bills, rent, etc).
  2. Labor costs.
  3. Goods & inventory costs.

Restaurants typically operate on razor-thin margins. The price you pay for a sandwich gets eaten up by these three categories. Generally, 30% of the price of your sandwich pays for its ingredients, for example.

If that restaurant wants to serve up ingredients from the local farmer's market, then someone from that restaurant has to actually go to the farmer's market, choose the produce, and bring it home. Thus, two of the costs associated with that menu go up drastically— goods and labor. The restaurant must increase the price of its sandwiches or it will fail (TW: the phrase for this is "scratching yourself to death").

good news, though!

Ethical spending isn't an all-or-nothing affair. Just because I can't afford to purchase all of my goods and services locally doesn't mean I can't still contribute some of those double-duty dollars. A restaurant wanting to support local farmers can purchase a few of its ingredients locally while getting the rest from its regular foodservice distributor. That restaurant and I can both keep our costs manageable while supporting the causes we believe in.

So, I'll try to be a little more mindful of the ways in which I spend my wages. I can (and will!) do these things to reduce the harm of my spending:

Even if I'm not 100% successful with redirecting my spending, every dollar counts!

Until next time, be well! :)