Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Should we buy fair trade coffee?

posted by Scot McKnight

We had a post last week on [evo] coffee. It drew a very interesting letter that deserves public, civil conversation. The letter is below. What do you think? Should we buy fair trade coffee as a form of justice?


Dear Scot,

I also believe all people should be compensated justly for what they
produce. However, there are inherent and serious problems with evo and
fair trade markets.

1) Farmers, who for generations grew various crops
on the same land, now only grow one crop year after year, because evo
and fair trade markets incentivise them too. This is terrible for farm
land.

2) Farmers refuse to innovate through markets or products,
creating new items or ways to make money, because they again are
artificially incentivised to only grow one crop.

3) The vast majority
of global farmers are not owners; they are workers. When the few owner
farmers there are are paid artificially inflated prices for their crop,
it devalues the non-fair trade crops’ value and causes non-fair trade
workers/farmers to make even less money.

EVO and Fair Trade markets incentivise poor farming practices that
destroy fertile lands. They reduce innovation and desire to create new
products and services possibly in greater demand than the evo crop.
They provide “a little” more money for the few owner farmers there are
at the greater expense of the vast majority of non-owner workers in the
market.

Buying fair trade and evo might make people with more money feel
better about the way they consume, but it hurts the market,
environment, and workers of the world far more than it helps. If you
require supportive material for this view, I can provide it, but plenty
is readily available online.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(37)
post a comment
Matt S.

posted November 7, 2008 at 2:52 am


It’s a tough call. Even though there are 3 bullet points above, it is really one argument: free market with purely natural supply and demand vs price distortion through set price minimums. Supposedly, the price distortion causes excess supply.Defenders of Fair Trade say it’s not that simple and that markets still operate properly in spite of the price floor.You can find both arguments backed up with convincing evidence.
I’m a coffee roaster. I want to purchase coffee responsibly. You want to drink it responsibly. What to do? I say, to quote a recent presidential candidate, “take an all of the above approach”.

As a roaster I’ve chosen not to purchase fair trade coffees because there is a more direct and less controversial means to make a difference in the lives of the producers – “get involved” – by actually connecting to the families and communities that grow the coffee and working with them to improve their growing and processing, increase sustainability, and contribute to their community. When the producers are directly involved in the pricing of their coffee and when their coffee improves, their profit increases. I pay way over the Fair Trade minimums for every coffee I buy.Another reason I’ve chosen to pass on Fair Trade is that not all coffee growers have the opportunity to join a democratically run co-op. Given my inability to decide who wins the argument about Fair Trade, I’ve decided to conclude that Fair Trade can be helpful. But it is not the only or even the best solution. So, yes, buy Fair Trade if that’s what’s available. But if you can, buy coffees that are even more involved and really work to make a difference.



report abuse
 

MatthewS

posted November 7, 2008 at 8:12 am


Given my inability to decide who wins the argument about Fair Trade, I’ve decided to conclude that Fair Trade can be helpful. But it is not the only or even the best solution.
That makes sense to me. If complex problems had an easy solution then someone would have done it by now.
Also, I have seen the possibility for fair trade to represent a new, hip sort of legalism – “If you don’t buy fair trade then I will reject you as being uncaring and out of it.”



report abuse
 

Nitika

posted November 7, 2008 at 8:57 am


My concern with fair trade is that it adds yet another middle man (whoever it is that gives the coffee the fair trade stamp of approval). Middle men are tremendously tempted to cheat the system to increase their profit. By offering more than market rate for a product we tempt people to represent something as fair trade, when it does not meet the requirements. I often wonder if we are just paying someone else to do the exploitation for us, so we don’t have to feel the pain of doing it more directly.



report abuse
 

Jim

posted November 7, 2008 at 9:00 am


I am confused about the crop rotation argument, because coffee is a perennial bush. So once a farmer decides to grow coffee at all then they’re in it for the long-term. So is the point simply that Fair Trade pushes more farms into coffee production?
Also, it seems to me the water usage of coffee production should be brought up as an issue as well.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee#Ecological_effects



report abuse
 

Julie Clawson

posted November 7, 2008 at 9:44 am


I admit that fair trade is not a perfect system, but I strongly believe that it is the best option we have.
The problems listed above are problems caused by the free market economy. Generally as a result of certain countries debt to the IMF or World Bank, the farmers of that country are pressured by the government to grow only certain crops in ways that produce the most yield. These are the strings attached to their loans. Large coffee corporations take advantage of this system and drive the price of coffee down – in most places in the world it is rare for a coffee farmer to make back even 60% of the PRODUCTION costs of growing coffee. Perhaps you should stop seeing fair trade prices as “artificially inflated” and see them as a system that refrains from stealing the coffee from the farmers. when farmers are paid a fair price they are able to employ environmentally practices in growing coffee – in fact this is often a prerequisite for growing fair trade. They can grow coffee under a canopy of shade that actually benefits the ecology and produces far better coffee.
and I really dont get #3 which is an argument I hear a lot. Its like saying we shouldn’t set up a soup kitchen to feed the homeless because we can’t feed everyone so why even bother. We forget that it is people who set the prices for coffee – they decide to cheat workers or not. In buying fair trade we tell them that we don’t stand for that and are willing to pay the full price for our coffee (not an inflated price, or giving charity, but the cost of production).
Yes, crops should diversify. But to blame the lack thereof that on fair trade is a really limited view of history. There are many systemic issues at hand and fair trade is a way to reverse the evils inherent in the system. Change the way the economy works then farmers can survive doing the right thing. And perhaps blaming the poorest of the poor farmers in the world isn’t the best place to start – take on the US Farm Bill and its punishments for crop variety and its influence on the world markets first.



report abuse
 

Michael W. Kruse

posted November 7, 2008 at 10:16 am


I really dislike the term “fair trade.” “Free trade” is an arrangement where all parties freely (without coercion) negotiate exchanges, where there is an environment of complete transparency, and where there is complete assurance that government will enforce contracts and protect property rights. No such world exists in pure form but we can speak of relative approximations. “Fair trade” is “free trade.”
The problem has been false characterizations “free trade” by vested interests. In the past, United Fruit Company, with the help of the US government, would work out “free trade” agreements with a Central American dictatorship for fruit production. Many of these governments functioned under an hacienda system where a couple dozen families owned the vast majority of land in the country and workers had no real ability negotiate their wages, enforce contracts, and protect their property. As is still the case in the poorest nations of the world, 70-90% of the economy functions outside the formal economy making property ownership and investment I highly precarious venture. This is not free trade. Yet United Fruit (and similar corporations) would do business with the hacienda plantation owners, who were the nation’s formal economy, and insist they were engaging in free trade. They even went so far as to fund private armies for these plantations in order to protect the plantations property rights. It was a sham. You can find variations on this theme elsewhere around the planet.
What was (and is) needed is free trade as defined it above. Sound governmental systems are needed where the average person can expect that their property and their rights will be respected. Government and large corporations need to become transparent. Paul Collier (“The Bottom Billion”) makes the case that the first thing many poor nations need is freedom of the press. When the populous is well informed, government and big business tend to shape up in a hurry. The good news is that over the past couple of decades there has been a marked improvement in governance in many nations around the world and the behavior of multinational corporations has significantly improved, in no small part due to the pervasive presence of watchdog groups exposing their every misstep. There is much more improvement to be made.
There are a wide variety of things under the rubric of “fair trade” and my experience is that it is a very mixed bag. You almost have to go on a case-by-case basis. But the bottom line should be the achievement of legitimate free trade. I’m not persuaded that fair trade coffee does that much net good. I think it is probably better to save the extra money you might use to buy free trade and make a Kiva loan.



report abuse
 

Michael W. Kruse

posted November 7, 2008 at 10:18 am


I goofed up my link. Should be Kiva.



report abuse
 

Michael W. Kruse

posted November 7, 2008 at 10:29 am


I’ll also add that related to #3 in the post, fair trade can have the unintended consequence of making some modestly poor farmers wealthier while harming the poorest farmers. Meeting the free trade and evo requirements often increases the cost of production. The poorest farmers can’t compete, even if they wanted to. Sometimes they find themselves having to accept a lower payment for their product or simply have to sell out to a larger landholder who can absorb the added costs. As is the case all around the world, regulation is sometimes used as a tool by those with more resources to drive smaller competitors from the market place.



report abuse
 

Julie Clawson

posted November 7, 2008 at 10:32 am


michael – you’re right – free trade as it is meant to be doesn’t exist. So is it better to just sit around hoping that someday it will no matter who gets screwed in the process or be proactive to make sure oppression is avoided?
and sorry for all the typos in my posts – typing while holding a squirming baby has its drawbacks…



report abuse
 

MatthewS

posted November 7, 2008 at 10:50 am


Julie,
If you could bottle and sell the energy of said squirming baby, the entire worldwide coffee market would face sudden collapse.



report abuse
 

L.L. Barkat

posted November 7, 2008 at 10:51 am


This reminds me of the question of foreign aid. In some cases, really helpful. In other cases, exceedingly harmful, as it promotes power among the elite.
Anyway, farmers are often pressured to mono-crop even outside of the fair trade system. Answers are so hard to come by…



report abuse
 

Jon Berbaum

posted November 7, 2008 at 10:55 am


I can’t see how points 1 and 2 really point to fair trade. Those are inherent problems of free trade. Witness the ravaging of tens of thousands of acres of (what used to be) ecologically sustainable farms, especially in Argentina, because of the rising price of corn and soybeans right now. Farmers are cashing in and planting corn on corn. It was not a historical inevitability that those two crops would be cornerstones of the world’s food supply, and post-WW2 American agriculture laws had a large influence. Free trade heavily undervalues ecological destruction, and in this case actually rewards farmers who do so. Anyway, fair trade is a variation on free trade, and those problems belong at the feet of free trade in general, not fair trade in particular.
I understand some skepticism about whether it actually works, but in my mind such skepticism is far outweighed by skepticism of the “free market” in general.
I’ve read plenty of free market advocates who still cling to the myth that a “rising tide lifts all ships” and decry artificial insertion into the free market of things like fair trade, because it hurts everyone else in that particular market (point 3). The issue is not whether fair trade is perfect, but whether it is better than the free market unchecked. I would say yes, it is.
After the last 50 years of economic history overseen by the World Bank and the IMF, surely we can put Friedman and economic orthodoxy to bed. Hope in the free market is like socialism–looks great on paper, total failure in the real world.
So I agree Fair Trade is an imperfect solution, but I don’t agree it causes more problems than it attempts to solve. Buy less. Pay what it is really worth. Go without. There are discipleship issues here for us as consumers as well as faltering attempts to address the systemic issue, and that’s worth something.
I’d strongly recommend Cavanaugh’s first essay in “Being Consumed” on freedom and the free market.



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted November 7, 2008 at 10:57 am


I’m leaning against “fair trade.”
Julie, #3 is, to me, the strongest argument against this idea. When we pay an artificially high price for something, we encourage people to make more of it (whether it’s the same guy planting more or more guys planting) which only pushes the market price down. So those who are in the fair trade gain while those who aren’t lose. This actually does what people accuse supply-side economics of doing — making the poor poorer.
It’s not saying we shouldn’t run a soup kitchen if we can’t feed everyone. It’s saying we shouldn’t run a soup kitchen by taking food from those we aren’t feeding.
Rather than buy things at artificial prices, perhaps we can try to buy other things they produce (maybe a grain not grown here) or, better, encourage them to produce things we actually want.
Now, you accuse the market of cheating people to make them poor. That’s not how it works! Yes, there are people who steal, but this is more a case of the distributor saying, “I can’t move this product at this price, so I’ll ask a lower price and see if it moves.” That’s simply life.



report abuse
 

Alan Rutherford

posted November 7, 2008 at 11:01 am


I’m not convinced by the post. We know that monoculture has been a problem long before fair trade systems were implemented. And the suggestion that innovation ceases under fair trade isn’t convincing, either. There seems to be an underlying assumption here that only rough-and-tumble capitalism leads entrepreneurs to make sound decisions and do research & development. Of course, we know this is not the case: subsidies are frequently a path to r&d.
From my vantage point as a consumer, it appears that fairly traded products are on the innovative end of things. For example, a higher proportion of fairly-traded coffee is shade grown and/or organic.
There is no perfect system for an exchange between super-rich consumers and poor farmers. Free-market capitalism has certainly been a miserable failure. Fair-trade is an attempt to bring some justice to the coffee-trade. I’m glad that you’re looking at it critically, because I’m sure we can continue to innovate and make it better….



report abuse
 

dopderbeck

posted November 7, 2008 at 11:19 am


A key question here is what is meant by the term “artificially inflated” with respect to price. Fair trade advocates would reject this terminology. Rather, the “market” price for coffee can in some circumstance be “artifically low” because of the market power possessed by large industrial purchasers who distribute coffee to end users. The oligopoloy purchasing power of a few large industrial buyers can constitute a form of “market failure.” Under such circumstances, an intervention such as a price floor does not “artificially inflate” market prices. Instead, it corrects a market failure and places the parties to the transaction on a more equal footing.
Further, it is difficult to speak of a unitary “market price” for coffee, because there are multiple differentiated product markets for various grades and types of coffee. The sort of high-end gourmet coffee produced by most fair trade cooperatives likely has a high cross-price-elasticity of demand with respect to “ordinary” coffee, suggesting that they constitute different market segments. If an oligopoly of large industrial producers is able to control the market prices for coffees, it’s possible that these small craft producers will be priced out of the market, resulting in some collapsing of the different market segments. In other words, the market failures that fair trade pricing seeks to correct include a reduction of overall market output for gourmet coffee.
Finally, the good farming practices question is an important one. However, the question is whether these small farmers would indeed diversify if driven out of the coffee market. A more likely scenario is that the large industrial purchasers or their grower conglomerate counterparts will take control of the farmland and continue to produce coffee on it. The land will continue to be depleted by constant coffee farming, but with the added negative spillover of small local farmers losing their livelihoods.
Of course, all of these are complicated empirical questions, which probably can’t be definitively resolved at this abstract level.



report abuse
 

Joey

posted November 7, 2008 at 11:22 am


Live local, buy local. I don’t claim to know tons about how the world market works or even the Fair Trade industry but it seems that the only sustainable and responsible way to do agriculture is to do it locally and to encourage others to do the same. We have plenty of farm land in the US to supply our nutritional needs. So do countries in South America. It is our attitude of entitlement that makes us think we deserve strawberries in January not our responsible stewardship.



report abuse
 

Jon Snyder

posted November 7, 2008 at 12:18 pm


This is an excellent discussion. I had never thought about the other side of fair trade before, so I thank you for bringing it up. I am sure there is a better solution. I think fair trade is largely a marketing device that plays on white guilt. Whether or not this is a fair use of marketing strategy is a separate question in and of itself.
I believe the strongest case for the non-fair trade argument is the last. In America, it is the farm workers, doing jobs Americans won’t do, who usually get the short end of the stick. I live in a valley with the largest onion farm in the world, and they are simply not fair to their workers. The workers are viewed as dispensable, necessary commodities. However, on our family farm (much smaller, but also grows onions), we try to be fair to our workers because we view them first and foremost as people (a Christian would discuss God’s image, but the majority of my family isn’t Christian). Having lived in South America, I can say that the vast majority of coffee farmers I witnessed owned their own small, family farms and then sold to big buyers. As a result, the workers were the farmers (unlike american corporate farms)
So in my opinion, the question should be directed differently. Is fair trade for the consumer or seller? If it is for the consumer, it does a fine job. If it is for the farmer, it would be better if there are checks and balances to help encourage varietal farming, ecological sustainability, and fair wages.



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted November 7, 2008 at 12:30 pm


Alan said: “Free-market capitalism has certainly been a miserable failure.”
Where has it failed? Where has it even been tried?



report abuse
 

Julie Clawson

posted November 7, 2008 at 12:34 pm


Chris -
“Yes, there are people who steal, but this is more a case of the distributor saying, “I can’t move this product at this price, so I’ll ask a lower price and see if it moves.” That’s simply life.”
Do you really face injustice by saying “that’s life”???
If I walk into a Best Buy and tell them that I feel like paying only $30 for a TV which covers only part of what they paid wholesale I would get laughed out of the store. If I took the TV anyway and left $30 that would be stealing. But you are encouraging distributors to do just that. I don’t care if “that’s life” or the way things work these days – it is still wrong.
The “helping a few people might harm others” argument has become the go to excuse for not doing anything. This is a process, the point is to eventually help everyone, but it has to start somewhere. Calling corporations to responsibility so they stop screwing the poor and blaming it on do-gooders is a major step. If we just abandon hope from the get go because the road might be difficult we are just paving the way for oppressors to continue what they are doing.



report abuse
 

MatthewS

posted November 7, 2008 at 1:18 pm


Don’t some coffee roasters buy straight from a grower? It seems there might be some possiblity there for ethical shops to help growers.
This article isn’t perfect, but it has some good points: http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0808/p09s02-coop.html
One the one hand, I am sure that local growers are exploited and I don’t like it. “Somebody otta do something.” However, the article expresses one of my concerns:
The belief that any group with power – government officials, economic experts, or social activists – can establish a price that’s “fairer” or “more just” than the actual market price is a fallacy that bedeviled communism for decades and it’s bedeviling the fair-trade movement today.
I am sure that fair trade has been a good thing in many cases. I just doubt whether it is truly a sustainable solution. I don’t have a better suggestion, which leaves me feeling pretty bad.
Maybe Michael Kruse’s suggestion is a good one: perhaps I should put a quarter in a kiva pot every time I buy a coffee and then invest the dollars from that once in a while.



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted November 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm


Julie, it’s funny you should use the example of Best Buy and TVs.
Plasma screen TVs have almost ruined Best Buy and Circuit City. You see, there were so many people selling them that prices kept going lower and lower until they were basically selling them at cost and hoping you’d buy some DVDs on the way out so they could make some money. Supply and demand and competition lowered the price, not some evil committee sitting around deciding who they’d like to screw next.
It is not “injustice” if no one wants you product at the present price.
One day one of your kids may open a lemonade stand. If he’s not getting any business, and you notice that he’s selling his product for $5/cup and the kid across the street’s selling his for $0.5/cup, are you going to cry injustice or tell him he has to lower his price or quit the business?
“the go to excuse for not doing anything”
One, we’re not doing “nothing.” We’ve sent billions to third world countries as a nation and as individuals in one form or another, and that’s not likely to stop any time soon.
Two, it’s not a question of helping some now and helping others later. If the critics are correct we may actually be doing more harm than good.
James said that it’s useless to tell a poor person “be warm and well fed” and do nothing. Is it any better to hand him a bucket of sand? Some things are helpful, and some things just make us feel better.
I think most of us really want to help. So let’s figure out how we can truly help.



report abuse
 

Tim Burleson

posted November 7, 2008 at 1:53 pm


Man, this is a great conversation that we as Christians should be wrestling with in our daily life.
Our company has wrestled with this for 10 years. We started as a 100% Fairtrade Organic (FTO) coffee company in Memphis, TN. Over the years, we have had to diversify for many reasons to other initiatives. FairTrade only giving 80% back to the farmers (overhead, etc.), Organic certification only helps farmers that can afford to get certified and keep it, FTO coffee is limited in supply so the price is artificially inflated (supply and demand), and a $12 bag of coffee is hard to sell in the grocery store (where 70% of all coffee is sold in the US). Other reasons existed for us but in the end, we became very insulated from our purchases.
We have now created initiatives with other organizations that can produce the help we desire in the coffee growing regions (medical, water wells, economic assistance, etc.) Additionally, we are helping with a local innercity school in Memphis, providing ESL language school to two refugees that work for us, and provide tuition assistance, health care, etc. In the end, we are a small coffee company that is trying to make a difference and still have money left to pay our bills, our debt from starting the company, and pay our bills personally. No one is getting rich and the risk/reward quotient is heavily weighted on the risk side.
As a Christ follower, I am compelled to do my best with what I have to ensure that I am being fair to everyone. The tug is economics. I live at a certain level (not extravagant by any means). My team members live at a certain level. I have dreams for my family as do my team members. The vendors we work with have their economics and margins…all the way to the farmer. Additionally, our customers have their economics/budgets that determine their purchase decisions.
I have lost so much sleep wrestling with this issue. Why don’t people get it? As the business owner that cares, why am I the one that has to give in the most to make it work? Man, I lost too much sleep.
It is amazing what God shows you when seeking his wisdom through prayer and his word.
The common theme from above is the personal choices of people in how they choose to live their life…including me. Matthew 6:21 records Jesus’ discussion on where peoples’ treasure is you will find people’s heart. Personal choices have to be examined against how people should live their lives as a Christian and changes have to be made to live out the beliefs they hold.
This starts with me. I have to live by conviction no matter how life is lived around me. I have to be ok that needs will go unmet around me as I do not have the capability to provide for all the needs I see. My epiphany was that the solution to needs is not money but people. Faithful people that give up the most precious thing to them…time…and engage people on a deeper level than a check or cash.
This post has turned into a novel here but should Christians buy FTO is bigger than yes or no. How far do you go? Buy from China where wages are low and Christianity is illegal. Should we buy oil? 64% of our oil comes from countries that persecute Christians? Where do you draw the line? We all have one.
In the end, we are “aliens and strangers” in this world where Jesus says that “the poor will always be with you”. Until Jesus comes back, this problem will not be solved. However, if we all become engaged and live a life based on convictions and values that Jesus displayed and called us to, the world will change.
Thank you for reading this far…sorry it was so long.
Tim



report abuse
 

Travis Greene

posted November 7, 2008 at 2:17 pm


As I see it, part of the Fair Trade movement is that I, as a consumer, am factoring in the practices that created this product into my estimation of a good price. Even if the price is higher than a non-fair trade product, I’m willing to pay the difference, because it’s worth it to me as a consumer, just as I might be willing to pay a higher price for better quality. I don’t see it as a fair criticism to say fair trade “artificially” sets the price. It’s just me adding “how much the farmer got paid” to “aroma” or “taste” on my list of reasons to buy a particular product.



report abuse
 

Edwin Martinez

posted November 7, 2008 at 2:40 pm


Disclaimer. As a third generation coffee grower I grew up in Guatemala and now live in the United States much of the year selling our coffee direct to roasters around the world.
I have spent some time in every link in the chain from seed to cup and have a great respect for Fair Trade and the positive impact it can have. I would like to see more FT coffee in certain areas, but the reality is Fair Trade is more fair in some areas than others as it is a global average paid to farmers around the world who have greatly varying costs of production.
I we have neighbors in the highlands of Huehuetenango that have been in FT coops and at times they have appreciation for it and other times they desperately want out as they see those not locked in an FT contract coming out ahead. One point to realize is FT does stipulates little about quality and in my opinion this is a fundamental component of a sustainable supply chain. If it is driven by other value added than it becomes dependent on that other added value. So for example if FT consumer market ever feels less benevolent and demand flattens out or decreases, then the FT grower now is left with less competitive advantage in the open market as he has gone for years being awarded a price not connected to quality. Incentive to produce a competitive product based on quality is gone. Thus he is literally left with a product that is WORTH-LESS than before FT entered his/her life.
That being said I find FT is a great match where quality is capped, AND there is NO BETTER ALTERNATIVE, such as other crops or any other form of work that would offer a better return.
I think if one wants to be responsible with how you spend your coffee purchasing dollars, you do the best you can. If it is FT and you don’t know any better, GREAT! FT will naturally find more success in areas were it is truly a good match. Places where FT is not a good match will likely eventually migrate to what is a better option for the growers.
In my opinion there are better options. As a grower I know there is great sense of reward in knowing someone genuinely appreciates and values our product for it’s inherent quality, and that people pay a good premium not because they like us, our story, feel charitable etc… but because they like the quality. This to me is ideal sustainability. This means if some day a customer decides they don’t like us, but they blindly prefer our coffee, we have a good product that they will continue buying and if not someone else will even if they’re not feeling charitable.
So where does this leave you as an end consumer? Do as much homework as you feel burdened to do and make the most responsible decision you can. Better alternatives are often hard to find as there is a lot of seemingly comparable programs out there, however being much smaller than FT there is generally less accountability which requires you to have more trust in the integrity of the program. the cost of accountability is quite high. In a perfect world end consumers would be more educated about quality, and their purchasing dollars would strongly line up with quality driven supply chains. Quality comes at a cost. To produce a great cup requires thing being done right in every step which over time with globalization and increased technology and transparency means people become fairly rewarded for working hard and doing a good job.



report abuse
 

Edwin Martinez

posted November 7, 2008 at 2:45 pm


Sorry about all the typos above.



report abuse
 

Michael W. Kruse

posted November 7, 2008 at 4:29 pm


Julie (back at 10:32)
“michael – you’re right – free trade as it is meant to be doesn’t exist. So is it better to just sit around hoping that someday it will no matter who gets screwed in the process or be proactive to make sure oppression is avoided?”
Sigh…
Did you even read my 10:16 comment? Where did I remotely suggest that we just sit around?



report abuse
 

Alan Rutherford

posted November 7, 2008 at 4:34 pm


ChrisB asks. Where has [free market capitalism] failed? Where has it even been tried?
I’m reluctantly taking the bait here. You’re right, true free market capitalism has never been tried. Injustice (the abuse of the weak by the powerful) is something gives rise to regulation.
Regulation has unpleasant side-effects. It must be carefully calibrated and recalibrated. But in a global economy with complex infrastructures, regulation is a must. I would argue that the prosperity generated by overly deregulated markets is not worth the suffering of the weak–like the people of Israel, we need carefully written laws to fight economic injustices as slavery, usury, deception, pollution, and workplace injuries.
One advantage of fairly traded products is that they are not market controls, but rather an experiment in voluntary self-regulation.



report abuse
 

Michael W. Kruse

posted November 7, 2008 at 5:28 pm


There are two economic fundamentalisms at work in the world and I see them both at work in this discussion:
Free trade – Market economies work with near perfect efficiency. Therefore, little better could be hoped for. What is, is good. Meddling is almost certain to make things worse, not better.
Managed economies – Markets economies are seriously flawed, needing considerable intervention (the most extreme view being communism.) Therefore, we could achieve far better than we are. What is, is flawed. Failure to “meddle” in the markets will lead to greater harm than not acting.
Both views have considerable hubris. What is, is what is, and clear understandings of what alternate to present realities are murky at best. We know that markets to do not function perfectly, and their imperfection isn’t always a result of outside meddling. Economic journals are heavily dominated by case studies of how markets failed. (We also know there has never existed anything approaching the neoclassical model of economics so we can’t say anything from experience, one way or the other, about the model being vindicated or falsified.)
But the flipside is the challenge of intervention. Intervention in markets is limited by three major constraints:
1. No individual, committee or bureaucracy can ever be certain they’ve collect sufficient and appropriate information. Assuming such information could be collected, the dynamic nature of life means that the information is out of date the moment it is compiled.
2. The dynamic nature of human interaction makes it impossible to predict the multiple permutations and iterations of decisions that will an intervention will spawn.
3. Any intervention is of necessity a political one, which means that vested political interests will usually skew interventions away from pure acts of justice toward other agendas. Furthermore, extensive regulation usually draws the wealthiest of the regulated into partnership with the political powers where they work for each others mutual interest instead of for justice.
Free trade has not historically been understood as synonym for Friedman neoclassical visions of “unfettered capitalism.” Yet freedom to create, invest, and preserve wealth (i.e., stewardship) is a core (but not absolute) element of human flourishing that is deeply rooted in the Bible. The challenge today is the sheer size of economies. Large corporations need regulation because their complexity and size simply makes it too easy for them to manipulate and mislead. But now we are back to the conundrum I just presented about regulation.
In the USA, we talk about freedom of speech yet we know that that freedom is not absolute (ex. no yelling “fire” in a crowded theater; no inciting violence, etc.) We do not concoct a notion of “fair speech” to guard us against excesses free speech. We do not treat speech as a danger to be feared but as good to be promoted. Similarly, we should be promoting economic freedom, within its legitimate constraints, as well.



report abuse
 

Michael W. Kruse

posted November 7, 2008 at 5:34 pm


Edwin 2:40 pm
Thanks for these powerful insights!



report abuse
 

Michael W. Kruse

posted November 7, 2008 at 5:59 pm


Just got an email from Scot. He Writes:
“Tell the blog I like Edwin’s comment. I’m on a plane and can’t comment.”



report abuse
 

Dan Jones

posted November 7, 2008 at 9:38 pm


First of all, I’m blown away at the ‘fair’ and respectful responses to my comment. You guys are truly a class above. Secondly, I am more than impressed by those ‘in the business’ posting here their thoughts (ans struggles) with this issue. Again, …a class above. Thirdly, I can’t spend anymore time commenting on this issue because I’m already 6 books behind this semester and have a 20 pager breathing down my neck…as well as have a newborn testing my bouncing technique to it’s limit.
The transition to beliefnet allowed for a transfer of archival posts, so I’ve linked to the original post (and comments) here. My response comment is also there, and it’s quite lengthy.
Someone said they think it’s great that we Christians wrestle with issues like this. I think it’s great that WE Christians on this blog are wrestling so respectfully (did I miss a comment that wasn’t?). I am so tired of blogs (I read WAY too much) where The Body just beats on itself over things not important to The Mission. I’m also tired of how I sinfully participated in those fights. I want to change, and I want to contribute positively to The Mission. I don’t want to hinder it or distract from the task at hand.
Thanks everyone.
DJ
AMDG



report abuse
 

Dan Jones

posted November 8, 2008 at 3:00 pm


Ok…so I lied…one more thing from some of today’s reading…
“There is…a world of facts that is the real world, an austere world in which human hopes, desires, and purposes have no place. The facts are the facts and they are value-free. The personal beliefs and value judgments of the student do not enter into the picture. They have their place in another realm of discourse, in that area where the personal opinions, tastes, and convictions of individuals are freely exercised…” (Newbigin, 1986 – Foolishness to the Greeks)
I’ve looked at the economic facts as best I can. I have read others more educated than I who have done the same. I do not believe the facts positively support ‘fair trade’ efforts…however…yes, however…
DJ
AMDG



report abuse
 

Bryon

posted November 8, 2008 at 11:20 pm


I think there’s a deeper question that has to be asked. I know very little about global economics so I don’t feel I can intelligently discuss the pros and cons the way others have already done. The greater question, however, is what do we as individual consumers do to reflect Christ in this flawed economic system. We’ve seen that buying non-Fair Trade products merely perpetuates and even validates the flawed system that keeps people impoverished. Yet, if the information in the original post is accurate buying Fair Trade makes no appreciable difference in the system.
As I site here and try to process through this, I don’t think I can affect anything at a systemiv level. Yet, for one person or one family I can make things a little, better, it seems by buying Fair Trade products. Until I can see a better way to help “the least of these” I think I will continue to buy Fair Trade coffee and encourage othes to do the same.



report abuse
 

Chris Ridgeway

posted November 9, 2008 at 8:43 pm


I’m glad there’s some questioning of this. Economics was my undergrad, and I’ve found myself questioning this concept for some time, viewing it more as a marketing concept designed to reduce guilt than a true solution.



report abuse
 

chad morton

posted November 12, 2008 at 8:07 pm


again, i am so glad there is discussion about what is fair in our buying practices, and because its a passion for me, including coffee! thank you to everyone with open minds.
i hesitate to bring this up, but since i believe it is a large part of this discussion…doing your homework before making purchases, or at least finding everything you can about a companies practices…michael,you cited “evo requirements”, but as far as i know, you havent contacted us to talk before making certain judgements about us. i know i threw my hat in the ring earlier when i commented, but in discussing directly with us, you may find we see eye to eye…at least you will get to see the good, bad, and the ugly of us! we welcome the discussion, and are hoping to learn as much as possible from thoughtful people like all of you!
i agree with edwin, most coffee farmers i meet want a wage that equals the quality of their coffee, especially the ones that truly care about offering the best possible cup! farmers work very hard at what they do, spend days in the field, sweating and toiling, and most of them that i have met, take it as an art form. i also agree that the fair trade movement, while possibly good in the short term, will ultimately hurt the farmers in the long term by providing a false sense of security within the value of their coffee.
food for thought…fair trade is $1.26/lb. oxfam says a “living wage” for most coffee farmers is $2.00/lb. on the open market, our guatemalan farmer can get $1.33/lb. this is a dilemma for him. does he sell on the open market, or through a “fair trade” co-op where ultimately he may have a net loss, but hopefully be able to sell more?
one thing that i believe we have done well at evo, is represented our farmers well. thankfully, we have really good coffees! we have partnered with madcap coffee company to showcase our quality. these guys compete in the national competitions (madcapcoffee.com Trevor Corlett, 8 years in the industry, 7th place GLBC 2008, 22nd place 1st round USBC
-Ryan Knapp, 2 years in the industry, 8th place GLBC 2008, 25th place 1st round USBC)and are considering using our coffees in the competitions. this would showcase us, as well as our farmers and could potentially put them on the map so to speak in the coffee industry world. selling their coffee in a fair trade coop (or any coop for that matter), they may never get the exposure, as it may not be traceable back to them.
we dont know it all, and hope we dont come off that way! we do hope what we do is changing lives, as i know all of you, through this discussion, are trying to do too! please contact us http://www.evocoffee.com, or email me directly chadmorton4@gmail.com to talk coffee, discuss fair trade, or tell us we dont have a clue!



report abuse
 

Chriswaterguy

posted November 14, 2008 at 7:57 pm


I got pointed to this blog via Twitter (@d_w_scott’s reply to @Appropedia), and like the discussion.
“fair trade is $1.26/lb. oxfam says a “living wage” for most coffee farmers is $2.00/lb. on the open market, our guatemalan farmer can get $1.33/lb.”
With these kind of prices, it seems to me that the best response is diversification and/or value-adding.
With access to proper information (that’s my passion) the farmers could grow other crops, which reduces supply and improves things for the remaining coffee farmers. And if it gets processed locally, that adds to the economy, and the processor becomes a local buyer – that has to help.



report abuse
 

BOD

posted November 20, 2008 at 10:30 am


“Fair Trade is good. It seems relevant to support Fair Trade where you are certain of the social, economic, and environmental practices; however I think it goes without saying that we the consumer can rarely rest assure that these practices are top notch.
This is why I try to support Direct Trade coffee vendors, who themselves check out the practices and do not simply rely on the Fair Trade seal of approval.
I personally live in Scranton, PA, and here in Scranton we have a coffee importer/roaster by the name of Electric City Roasting. This company also has to local cafes which sells this coffee. Anyways, the owner of this company goes directly to coffee farms and checks out their practices herself. If she deems them to be above the Fair Trade standard she then decides to purchase from the farm. And it is this, that is known as Direct Trade.
From the consumer perspective, I there again can not ensure that the practices are perfect, but I can at least see the farm and staff via the pictures that adorn the cafes, and it seems to be a bit more traceable than even Fair Trade can purport.
So check out Direct Trade vendors, and look into http://www.electriccityroasting.com …. There great!”



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.