Via a conversation on Facebook earlier this morning, I ran across Jeremiah Moss talking about why shopping local is necessary but not sufficient to save local businesses:

If the problem lies with individuals then there’s no point in trying to change the system. The system is blameless! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

This is a clever way to make us feel guilty and hopeless, and thus to render us passive. It makes us squander our power as citizens and give up on democracy. Don’t fall for it.

In so many cases, small businesses are not closing because we didn’t shop enough. In over a decade of writing this blog, I have walked the streets of this city talking with countless small business people. Over and over, they have told me that the number one force shutting them down is a landlord who demands a high rent increase or who refuses to renew a lease. Thriving, beloved, successful businesses that were staples of their communities for 20, 40, 80 years are pushed out by rents that double, triple, quadruple, and more.

No amount of “shop local” is going to fix that.

We need systemic change from the top.

I am all for shipping locally whenever possible, but Moss is right—individual action here is not enough.

This point can it be overstated, regardless of whether we are talking about shopping locally, recycling, ethical investing, or any other field or behavior. This stuff can not happen at the scale required to effect real change if we are putting all the responsibility on individuals.

I would also add that if someone’s response to your suggestion that, say, we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is to ask “If you believe that, why do you drive a car,” they are arguing in bad faith.