Unclear on the Concept

Mike Rizzo at The Unbroken Window reports spotting these two bumper stickers next to each other — on the same car.

Click here to comment or read others’ comments.


56 Responses to “Unclear on the Concept”

  1. 1 1 some guy

    You seem to feel there is a contradiction here.

    I am not sure why.

    That I don’t want to blow up people from other religions, does not obligate me to lay waste to my economy with free trade policies that undermine the local market, or the local environment.

    One hand for oneself and one for the ship
    Strong fences make good neighbors.

    Both of these suggest that it’s easier to coexist when you live closer to the top of Maslow’s pyramid than at the base.

  2. 2 2 Advo

    I don’t see that as a contradiction.
    The easiest way to co-exist with people is if you have absolutely no contact with them.

  3. 3 3 Gordon Landwirth

    Many people subscribe to a convenient distortion of morality that implies that it is almost inherently moral (or more moral) to protect jobs in one’s community (however “community” is defined, and through whatever action — political pressure, consumer behavior, etc.) rather than acting in a way conducive to jobs elsewhere (even if not deliberately for that purpose, but rather as an impartial consumer). Hence the self-righteousness protest against outsourcing, as well as consumer behavior per the example of the post.

    Even leaving aside the likelihood that avoiding such favoritism is ultimately better for the vast majority of people (due to competition, comparative advantage, etc.), the whole concept is based on the implicit premise that the well-being of people in one’s community matters more than that of others. Such a view is particularly troubling in the case of most outsourcing, which is generally done because there are people elsewhere who are so much more desperate for income that they are willing to work for much less money.

    I also wonder if the anti-outsourcing people would similarly protest technological advancements (automation, information technology, etc.) that also has the immediate (direct) effect of lost jobs here. If they wouldn’t similarly protest adoption of such technologies — and they generally don’t — then why do they protest outsourcing, which also has the effect of getting things done with fewer workers here, but with the benefit of (generally) very poor people gaining some badly-needed income.

  4. 4 4 Eliezer

    This person is clearly a bigot that doesn’t like anyone different from him/herself. Why does the co-exist sticker only have religious symbols on it? I interpret it as an attack on religion. This person is saying, “do what I do, because I’m right.”

  5. 5 5 Carlos Ellis

    The unwavering support for free trade among economists is certainly very curious. Throughout the last two centuries most economic theories have been proven, not only wrong but catastrophically so.

    And yet pretty much every economist recommends free trade as an actual policy, to be applied in the real world, not just as interesting possibility to be studied academically. This seems to be based on very meagre empirical support (a few exceptional countries, like Britain in the late 19th century, might have adopted systems that came close to free trade).

    Is that sufficient basis to defend a policy that could harm millions? What if the models supporting free trade turn out to be wrong, like most other models?

  6. 6 6 Ken Arromdee

    Gordon: If you outsource to another country, people in that other country are willing to take less money for reasons related to the difference in economies between the other country and your country, which in turn is related to government interference or mismanagement in the other country (or lack of government interference when it should be necessary, such as permitting pollution or dangerous working conditions). This doesn’t apply to losing jobs to automation.

  7. 7 7 Daniel

    I agree, the 2 together are quite silly. There should be no reason to buy something merely because its local other than to favor people who happen to be around you so are probably more like you.

  8. 8 8 Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘My colleagues and I found dramatic evidence of this positive relationship between markets and morality in our study of fairness in simple societies—hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, nomadic herders, and small-scale sedentary farmers—in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Twelve professional anthropologists and economists visited these societies and played standard ultimatum, public goods, and trust games with the locals. As in advanced industrial societies, members of all of these societies exhibited a considerable degree of moral motivation and a willingness to sacrifice monetary gain to achieve fairness and reciprocity, even in anonymous one-shot situations. More interesting for our purposes, we measured the degree of market exposure and cooperation in production for each society, and we found that the ones that regularly engage in market exchange with larger surrounding groups have more pronounced fairness motivations. The notion that the market economy makes people greedy, selfish, and amoral is simply fallacious.’

    Which is from the Marxist economist Herb Gintis, I’d provide a link to it at the Boston Review, but it no longer works.

  9. 9 9 Patrick R. Sullivan

    A little investigation got me to the Gintis piece;


  10. 10 10 Roger

    One sticker favors tolerating different religions. The other is about spending money. What is the contradiction? Both views are commonly held where I live. One can tolerate faraway Hindus without feeling obligated to buy products from them.

  11. 11 11 Al V.

    There was an interesting Planet Money podcast last year that looked at what happened when a landslide closed Route 1 below Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara County produces a lot of produce, and yet grocery stores in the county were without produce. Local leaders attempted to direct produce from the local farms to local grocery stores, but could not make the logistics work.

    The fundamental problem was that there are (or were) no distribution centers in Santa Barbara County. Produce grown in the county is trucked to distribution centers in northern Los Angeles County, where it is packaged, and then shipped to grocery stores all over the country. When Planet Money tracked how produce was routed, they discovered that it was no more likely that a tomato eaten in Santa Barbara County was grown in the county than that it was grown in Visalia.

    One might think that shipping produce all over the place would require a lot of additional energy, but Planet Money found that transportation represented less than 5% of the cost of produce. And their analysis indicated that changing this system to direct produce to local markets would significantly raise the retail price of produce.

  12. 12 12 Al V.

    I think the contradiction that Steve is pointing out is that it is widely known that trade reduces war. For example, from 1850-1950 there were 17 international wars in Europe, excluding internal conflicts such as the Russian Revolution or Spanish Civil War. The purpose of the creation of the European Common Market was economic integration, which would reduce the economic motivation for war. And none of the countries in the EU have fought each other after joining.

    Look at the U.S. relationship with China today. There is great potential for conflict, and yet it would be suicidal for either country to initiate anything because our economies are so intertwined.

  13. 13 13 Ken B

    I wish there were a mockable contradiction here, I really do. But the top one is just a wankerish irenic bit of self aggrandizement on the subject of religious toleration and religious wars, and the second is just a wankerish silly bit of self aggrandizement on the topic of shopping. The contract between irenic and silly does not rise to the level of a mockable contradiction.

  14. 14 14 iceman

    I suppose one can say they prefer to think of “coexist” in practical terms as “living harmoniously with those with whom one actually has contact”, rather than some mushy nebulous global sense.
    However @some guy re: “my economy”: You’re free of course to spend your own money any way you please, or even just give it away to whoever you consider most needy or deserving; you’re also free to try to convince others to do the same. But I hope you recognize that to the extent you support *political* measures along these same lines, you are imposing a tax on all non-likeminded members of “your “ economy.

  15. 15 15 Roger

    Maybe increased trade reduces the probability of war, but there is a big difference between promoting coexistence and promoting mutual economic interdependence. The USA coexists with Cuba but does not trade with Cuba. No contradiction.

  16. 16 16 iceman

    15 – Mmm, at least when I see that sticker I presume the intended meaning of coexist is a bit more than “do not annihilate”. If you have the opportunity to purchase the same thing from two different people and refuse to transact with the one offering it for less, you seem to be sending the message “I would prefer you did not exist”, or “I choose to take an action that will make it harder for you to exist”.

  17. 17 17 Scott H.

    What if I’m religiously intolerant, but readily purchase imported goods? Is that a contradiction too?

  18. 18 18 Roger

    There seems to be some confusion about the definition of “coexist”. My dictionary says “to exist together or at the same time; to live in peace with each other especially as a matter of policy”. It does not say or imply anything about buying their products. The Coexist Foundation, the probable source of that bumper sticker, has the stated mission to “promote, encourage and support engagement between Jews, Christians and Muslims both individually and through their respective communities through dialogue, education and research.” Again, there is nothing about buying their products. If I choose not to buy Cuban cigars, I am certainly not sending a message that I prefer that the Cubans do not exist.

  19. 19 19 Ken B

    Where was the ‘local’ bumper sticker made?

  20. 20 20 Will A

    A possible contradiction would be if owner of the vehicle believes that “Coexists” means that we shouldn’t favor any one religion and then only purchases goods and services from a neighborhood that is 50% Christian and 50% agnostic.

    @ Scott H. #17
    I don’t see a contradiction as long as you choose to boycott goods made by a religious group that you were intolerant against.

    However, if you were intolerant towards Buddhists and proceeded to purchase goods and services from Buddhists, I believe that would be a contradiction.

  21. 21 21 some guy

    @iceman 16,

    “If you have the opportunity to purchase the same thing from two different people and refuse to transact with the one offering it for less, you seem to be sending the message “I would prefer you did not exist”, or “I choose to take an action that will make it harder for you to exist”.”

    I don’t think that preferring sellers for various reasons is the same as genocide, but even so, it would be assume that today’s sticker price of a good is the sole cost of that good.

    It does seem to be a nice moral claim to make for free trade argument, but I don’t think it’s justifiable. And is one reason why free trade proponents are having us engage in a race to the bottom.

    One reason why fair trade > free trade.

  22. 22 22 Jack

    @ Carlos #5

    You say “And yet pretty much every economist recommends free trade as an actual policy, to be applied in the real world, not just as interesting possibility to be studied academically. This seems to be based on very meagre empirical support (a few exceptional countries, like Britain in the late 19th century, might have adopted systems that came close to free trade).”

    You don’t need empirical support to be for people trading with whom they want, regardless of their geography. If governments have bad environmental regulations or whatever, that’s a separate issue.

  23. 23 23 Will A

    @ some guy #21

    My guess is those you are calling free trade proponents really don’t want free trade. I could be wrong though.

    Can you give a person/organization who see as a free trade proponent that is in favor of:
    * No taxes or tariffs
    * Free movement of goods and services (Including free movement of people between borders)
    * No government subsidies to any business
    * etc.

    At Carlos #5 the United States free trade zone seems to have worked pretty well (not perfectly), but pretty well.

  24. 24 24 Ken B

    @20Will A
    Would it be inconsistent for a Leninist to buy rope from a capitalist?

  25. 25 25 Mike H

    Why is the ‘Buy Local’ bumper sticker not also a photograph? Surely it should have been easier to upload a second photo than to hunt down a source image for the second sticker online. What went wrong with the second photo?

  26. 26 26 Steve Landsburg

    Mike H: Interesting question. I’ll ask Rizzo when I see him.

  27. 27 27 Mike H

    From Wikipedia, in the section on arguments against ‘Buy Local’

    Small-scale farmers do not receive government subsidies and are not able to support their business on prices comparable to those of industrial-scale food production, so they must sell at higher prices to make a living

    Given: If a small-scale local farmer loses sales to a subsidised local competitor because of the subsidies, there is a deadweight loss.

    Question: If the small-scale local farmer gains back those sales because of a successful ‘buy local’ movement, does this increase or decrease the deadweight loss?

  28. 28 28 Zero M. Ocean

    [I'm surprised Nobody.Really has yet to respond with a witty and on-point analysis.]

    I simply observe the implied pretense that coexistence and one’s predilection to buy from local distributors somehow are contentious with each other. To me, that’s a lot like saying, “Without war, there can be no peace.”

    Insofar as I can tell, any sensible person would dismiss the aforementioned as stupid. I don’t get why when the same principle is enacted on bumper stickers it becomes a convoluted concept the cognoscenti find intriguing and worth considering.

  29. 29 29 iceman

    They don’t literally contradict in a parochial sense, but I think most people would find the sentiments are contrary (e.g. inclusive vs. exclusive).
    1) so we think the Coexist Foundation (or whatever) believes Christians, Muslims and Jews should live together peacefully & respectfully, but only with each other?
    2) if we agree that today “existing” requires one to exchange goods & services with others to some degree, doesn’t a decision to trade with some relative strangers over others for *no* good reason (price, quality etc.) other than proximate origin of the goods at least imply “coexistence” of a different nature?

    Just having some fun with semantics — that is what we do here right?

    BTW there is a ton of theoretical & empirical support for free trade; “Against the Tide” by Douglas Irwin chronicles the historical debate. (TBQ also offers a simple but powerfully logical example.)
    Free trade (voluntary exchange) *is* fair. “Fair trade” is code for *policies* that impose a tax on others.

  30. 30 30 Adam

    Reading this thread it is apparent to me that, like the owner of the bumper stickers I too have been basing my decisions on what to buy on the wrong information. Could you guys let me know what the correct information I should use is?

  31. 31 31 Harold

    One of Coexists campaigns is a fair trade shop selling products from India and Uganda, which is not local unless you are in India or Uganda, so there is a sort of contradiction there.

    #29 I don’t think Coexist think only Christians, Muslims and Jews should be peaceful with eachother. They have identified a particular area of conflict, and are trying to reduce it. “The projects and programmes which Coexist supports are aimed at helping people of these faiths improve their relations – above all with each other, but also with different faiths, and with those of no faith.”

    Their coffee is grown in Uganda where there is particular conflict beteween Muslims and Christians, they claim the profits from the fair trade coffee is spent on local schools. The T shirts are made in India, where Sikhs and Hindus are included. Proceeds again spent on local schools for mixed religions. It doesn’t actually say where the bumper stickers are made.

  32. 32 32 Ken B

    @Adam 30 : Prices.

  33. 33 33 Andrew K

    @Mike H and Steven

    They are both stock photos. Presumably he didn’t want to snap a photo while driving, and looked up the images (or similar bumper stickers with the same content).


  34. 34 34 Adam

    @Ken B 32
    Thank you. From now on I shall base my purchasing decisions solely on price. I shall eat only 97p chickens from Tesco and rent a garage for my family to live in. I shall buy a car for £50 from Honest Mick and clothe myself only from Oxfam. The latter won’t be much of a change mind you.

  35. 35 35 Ken B

    @Adam 34:
    What do you do now I wonder. Buy 970p chickens at Harrod’s? Rent the top floor of the Savoy? I think you are confusing basing a buying decision on price and selecting the lowest price.

  36. 36 36 maznak

    Free trade is the best form of coexistence. “Free” implies that it is beneficial for both parties. What better way of defining coexistence than doing something together that brings benefit to both of us.

  37. 37 37 Adam

    @Ken B 35
    Sorry for my misunderstanding. How should I use price to base my buying decision on if not seeking the lowest?

    Yes, £10 is about what I spend on a chicken at present, but live in a small bungalow rather than the Savoy.

  38. 38 38 Ken B

    Well I bought an iPad rather than the cheaper used Commodore 64 for $2, but had the iPad cost what it did a year ago I’d have bought a Lenovo. I don’t think I just went for the lowest price like your chicken, but I made a price decision. That makes me both a cog in and a beneficiary of the price system. That system drives the market more efficiently than your bumper sticker does.

  39. 39 39 suckmydictum

    For all those who think there is not a real contradiction:

    I presume anyone who would put a coexist sticker on their car tries to reject various tribalisms (religious and otherwise) which divided the human species in the past. If they don’t actively reject them, they don’t believe religion, race, et al. of other people should affect our behavior toward them (again, as in the past).

    Someone who promotes buying local in bumper sticker form is saying (and this sticker does so explicitly) that people geographically situated around you deserve your business more than those not.

    What Steve is not sure about is why geographic favoritism is less pernicious than older, perhaps more superstitious tribalism. If there’s no contradiction, the difference at least has to be qualified.

  40. 40 40 Roger

    No. There are religious folks who favor coexistence with other religions.

    There are some arguments for free trade above, but they have very little to do with a Coexist sticker.

  41. 41 41 Zero M. Ocean

    @ 39


    The above link will direct you to a video on Youtube in which Professor Landsburg explains his opinion of nationalism, racism and the primary tenets of each form of discrimination. I would agree that you have captured Landsburg’s true inquiry.

    That withstanding, you would still be hard-pressed to correlate my purchasing preferences to an ideological background that is in contention with coexistence. Just because I prefer to buy American if I am American doesn’t immediately imply my position in general is, “Eff everybody,everywhere but here.”

    Preferring to buy local, in my lowly opinion, doesn’t explicitly damn someone to being a nationalist; subscribing to an idea does not make you a subscriber to an ideology that that idea is often associated with.

    For instance: I am not a Christian, but I still enjoy Christmas. Presents are awesome. I’m also a Laker fan, but it does not mean I hate the Celtics. It just means I would rather see the Lakers win this coming season than the Celtics [or any other team]. Would I perform a malicious act to ensure my team’s absolute victory? No. It’s a sports team preference, not an ideology.

    The same could arguably be said of preferring to buy local products. I.E., I am rooting for my team, but good for you too if you win.

    This is the principle difference between the consumer and the politician, though. The consumer can choose to buy local and be benign, but a politician cannot impose a policy that promotes a local-buying preference without having a negative corollary.

    I could be wrong, though. . . .

  42. 42 42 suckmydictum


    “The consumer can choose to buy local and be benign, but a politician cannot impose a policy that promotes a local-buying preference without having a negative corollary.”

    You are technically correct that the politician legislating subsidies for local food is worse than a person who prefers to buy local himself.

    However, to see why consumers buying local is not benign, suppose enough people absolutely insisted on making sure their oranges were grown in Greenland. We don’t know why. Maybe they like Greenlanders. maybe they prefer northern hemisphere oranges but that’s what they want and they claim it’s better for the world. A huge investment would have to be undertaken to grow oranges in Greenland (genetic manipulation of oranges, heating facilities, transport costs moving the oranges out of Greenland, etc). This investment could obviously be used on something else if they didn’t insist on this, and if he sold, one would expect Greenland oranges to fetch a premium far higher than Florida oranges.

    By insisting on Greenland oranges, you are making the world poorer than it would be if you did not insist upon this.

    1. How is preferring Greenland’s oranges different from preferring local oranges?

    2. How is excluding trade with all non-Greenland orange producers not a tribalistic impulse the same as an nationalist or religious one?

  43. 43 43 Roger

    Some people here worship at the altar of free trade. If you really want an answer to a silly question about Greenland oranges, then ask whoever is in favor of Greenland oranges, but it has nothing to do with Coexist.

  44. 44 44 some guy

    @39 suckmydictum

    That’s a lot of presumptions. Rejecting the partition of humanity on religious grounds does not imply rejecting the partition of humanity on other grounds.

    I can reject religious partitioning while still finding it reasonable to partition out slave holders. Or child labor advocates. Or polluters. Or homophobic cultures.

    I can also understand that while I might prefer to buy globally, that if I and my geographic partition don’t purchase locally we will lose, possibly forever, abilities. To wit, how Mexico and South America is (was) said to losing hundreds of local variations of corn, because American corn was cheaper.

    Comparative advantage is terrific, if you truly want a race to the bottom: everyone with the same poor child labor laws, everyone with the same poor environmental laws, everyone eating the same yellow corn, the same enriched flour pasta, every restaurant a chain managed to Wall Street’s expectations.

    I guess wiping out every single difference in humanity and reducing humans to the same entropically low culture is perhaps a nice way of eliminating the need for co-existence.

    I think the folks sporting the co-existence stickers see value in diversity, and if you see value in diversity, that can’t exist without permitting geographical diversity.

    As it happens, I am lucky enough such that within walking distance I can find churches, synagogues, and mosques. So I am not sure at all why the Coexist sticker seems to conflict with the geographical economic purchase sticker.

  45. 45 45 suckmydictum


    This is a thoughtful rejoinder. Unfortunately, I don’t think the examples you gave are very compelling and here’s why.

    When I say “tribalism”, I mean unreasoned loyalty to your own group, because it’s your group. If you have a better working definition than that, I’d like to know what it is.

    Historically, under my definition, religious and nationalist agendas are explicitly tribalisric. Your examples of our partitioning out slaverholders, child labor enthusiasts, polluters, and homophobes from society is based on our collective disapproval of the slave trade, children working, dirty air, and biblical superstition, respectively. These examples have nothing to do with some unreasoned loyalty to ingroups (I.e. non-slaveholders, non-child labor enthusiasts, etc).

    However, when someone buys local because they prefer wealth to stay locally, they are not partitioning out some pathological group like the ones you mentioned. They are explicitly expressing loyalty to an ingroup, which is, under my reckoning, tribalism.

  46. 46 46 Ken B

    Several here, suckmydictum, and implicitly Landsburg, confuse local and national. A buy localist in Vancouver would prefer produce from Seattle to produce from Toronto. Their rationale –and note I like to mock them – is not that people close by are better but that transport is good, corporations are evil, and local genetic variance is precious. All that seems to me quite compatible with vapid platitudes about religious tolerance.

  47. 47 47 Ken B

    Umm, transport is bad.

  48. 48 48 Ken B

    Roger: “No. There are religious folks who favor coexistence with other religions.”

    Indeed. The word for them is “targets.” Just ask the Copts and the Cathars.

  49. 49 49 suckmydictum


    I think you’re right about the primary motivations behind buying local (reducing transport costs, evil corporations, etc) and I think you’re aware Landsburg and others have pretty thoroughly debunked these motivations’ validity (i.e. prices are, to a first approximation, the best way of measuring total societal cost).

    This is not germane to this thread though. The “I by local” bumper sticker above very clearly is concerned with maintaining local wealth. My position is that this is a type of tribalism incompatible with a professed interest in coexistence and toleration.

  50. 50 50 Mike Rizzo

    @ Andrew K and others

    They most certainly ARE stock photos, we were being ferried along in a Gator from the place where you pay to the place where you pick the cherries when we saw a car parked on the side of Rt 18 with the stickers (and many more). I did not have my phone on me.

    Perhaps I should have titled my post, “Awkard?”

  51. 51 51 Harold

    #42 “suppose enough people absolutely insisted on making sure their oranges were grown in Greenland.”
    This touches on several previous dicussions about preferences. One argument runs that if people want their produce from Greenland, then presumably they are happy with the extra cost. It is simply a preference after all. The market is still efficient, and the harm done is compensated by the benefit to the consumer.

    The same argument can be run for people who just prefer their hotels, shops and workplaces to be free of black people.
    I happen to disagree (as implicitly does suckmydictum). It is important why the consumer wants the produce to come from Greenland, or to be local. If they want this because they think that they are doing a social good, but in fact they are mistaken, then it is not efficient. We must be consistent about this. Everyones’ choice does not necesarily lead to an efficient market
    I am still a bit unsure about the status of caged hens and veal crates in this. I find the suffering of the animals disteressing, and prefer to buy free range. This seems to be the same sas the locavores, and actually I am doing more harm than good by ignoring the price signal.

  52. 52 52 Will A.

    @ Harold #51

    I also find the suffering of animals distressing. Like you I would also prefer eating veal who has been hit on the head with a sledge hammer after it has run around in a beautiful pasture.

    If you really want to be humane, then you might want to consider eating animals that haven’t killed before you start to eat them.

    If your concern is how humanely animals are treated, then might not want to take locality into consideration in your meat selection but how humanely an animal is treated/killed.

    You might find that animals killed in a Kosher meat packing facility 2 states away is treated/killed in a more humanely way than a local free range slaughterhouse.

  53. 53 53 Zero M. Ocean

    @ 49

    “The “I by local” bumper sticker above very clearly is concerned with maintaining local wealth. My position is that this is a type of tribalism incompatible with a professed interest in coexistence and toleration.”

    Coexistence is a product of tolerance. Free trade is a supplement to tolerance, insofar as you’re more likely to tolerate someone, or something if they are of a personal use to you. Still, economic efficiency is not the linchpin to tolerance, despite tolerance being a keystone to economic efficiency.

    In my opinion, the two are completely independent — despite how complimentary they are to one another.

  54. 54 54 Harold

    #52 – I was not promoting localism (or locavorism). I was pointing out that localists are mistaken, so presumably are free-rangists. The price signal clearly shows us that caged hens are better socially than free-range chooks. I may be thinking I am doing good, but actually I am doing harm if the price signal is to be believed.

    The problem here seems to me to be that the sudffering of the animal is not included in the price.

  55. 55 55 Ken B

    Yes he has; Ricardo too.

  56. 56 56 Ken B

    Harold, I agree with 54 but claim I said more concisely in 32.


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