Friday, May 18, 2012

Capitalism and Ethics in the Web Age

I’ve become a regular customer at the local bicycle shop lately. I’m getting back into riding—I finally have enough free time to be able to budget an hour or so every other day so that I can take a good long ride. I originally stopped by the shop to see what new hardtail mountain bikes were going for—they had a few on special for five, six hundred bucks. Right in the wheelhouse, then, at least for my budget, and I thought seriously about buying one.

But then I got home and started surfing and Googling around, learning what was to learn. I wanted to replace my old banger; the fork was just done. I have a relatively late model Trek cruiser, too, the ones with the steel fenders and all that swoopyness going on, with a seven speed drivetrain. Being the ex-bicycle mechanic that I am, my gears were turning about swapping some of the good parts from my clapped out MTB onto the cruiser. A lot of that depended on the spacing of the rear dropouts, which, by the way, turned out to be identical. Long story short, I was able to swap everything I wanted to swap, and I only needed to buy new tires, tubes, and a saddle. I figured if I kept to the streets for now, I would ride more often if I didn’t have to drive half an hour to the trailhead every time.

I found some good deals for tires online, but you’ve gotta pay shipping, you can’t really look at the merchandise, and you’ve gotta wait for parcel post, especially if the item is bulky. So I walked on over to the bike shop. It’s only five blocks from my door to theirs anyway. I figured I’d see what they had.

Now here’s the thing: I shop online for plenty of stuff. I don’t think it’s bad to do that. Part of what makes capitalism work is the beauty of choice, and we have plenty of it in America. Coupled with that liberty, though, is the attendant responsibility to choose wisely, to inform one’s choices with some measure of propriety. I’ve been saying for quite a long time now that capitalism doesn’t work at all when it’s been divorced from Christian morality. If we don’t have an absolute right or wrong as a foundation under us, we can’t begin to allow the market loose; it would tear the world apart. I think we have plenty of evidence of that in current events right now, which I won’t belabor, but it’s in big biz and government aplenty.

I ended up buying my tires at my local shop, plunking down forty bucks a pop plus tax, which was a lot. But I was rewarded, and as it turns out, unexpectedly. First of all, I was “keeping it local,” something the granola-muncher North End hippies seem to be into, and something with which I agree. I was helping to keep the doors of my local shop open by doing business there. I was also sowing a kind of seed, because when I popped back in a week later with some stubborn axle bearings that needed adjustment, they comped me for the labor, happy to sell me a tool and some parts on top. They figured I’d be back, which I will. But I also got my stuff right now, which, fast as technology is these days, no online retailer can match (unless they’re selling downloads, natch). I got to look over the merch, make a good decision, and take what I wanted home without jacking around with shipping. Of course, there was the sales tax, but whatever. On top of all that, my local shop has a box of take-off parts—tires and tubes for like, two bucks each. They’re brand new, they just came installed as original equipment on some floor model and got swapped out for something different, spec’ed by the customer. Everybody wins.

Anyway, that’s all. Support your local biz every chance you get. The Web has enabled the illusion of more choice, more convenience, et cetera. But the trade-offs are real. Shipping can take forever, if there’s a screwup of some kind you’ll wish you’d never ordered the thing in the first place because returns are horrible online, and you don’t get to hold the widget in your hot little hands before you commit. Besides, one day you might wake up to discover the only choice you have left is MEGACORP OF CHINA and you’ll be completely screwed. So wake up to your Christian morality and ethics, America, and be proud of your heritage; do the right thing. Keep it local.