Tim Worstall sums up nicely my previous post on fairtrade (he's a very smart man):
The conclusion makes sense to me. (Link)
Just as I was at pains to request the fairtrade crowd that I wasn't speaking on behalf of others, and my arguments should be judged on their own merits, I wanted to point out some responses i've received. I'm sure there's many sensible fairtrade advocates, and this is a plea for them to emerge.
I began my post with this:
we should all realise that there’s a difference between the theoretical terms “free trade”, “fair trade”, “protection”; and the more complicated reality. I think so far that my points have been theoretical, but many of these comments are empirical insinuations/anecdotes. We need to be careful that we treat like for like.
And yet it's been ignored almost at every turn, resulting in this synopsis:
It was nice to see other folks concurring with my thesis that the problem with free trade is that it's not free.
Of all the theses i've encountered, that's the least helpful. "I believe that X isn't X". Of course we all know what Esteban means - that what's commonly referred to as free trade isn't truly free trade. Roger (in the original post) understood this:
We don’t have free markets within the US, many people mean US style trade when they say free trade. I see now that you do not make this error
...and yet Esteban feels with a quick ditty "free trade isn't free" that the debate has been settled, and my position is untenable. Throughout the argument - and despite my protestations - people were using language incorrectly in order to tarnish and ignore my points.
Roger rejects my claim that free trade is voluntary. His claim is that since we *have to eat food*, the decision to consume it is forced. He even claims that "choice" doesn't necessarily apply when someone is faced with two possible alternatives (if one of which is sufficiently unpleasant). This suggests that those poor African's we see on TV are some kind of automated beings, without free will, their fates determined by us. Whilst central planners may like this vision, humanists don't. I believe that terms such as "choice" exist.
He goes on to claim theoretical constructs are meaningless, and even sent me some Alice In Wonderland cartoons to mock my logical flaws. He strikes me as an intelligent, witty, jovial person, but too self-satisfied to be able to teach me what I need to know.
Example (paraphrased, from an email):
AJE: How do explain the inconsistency between those in the fairtrade foundation, who want to make fairtrade a compulsory regulation, and those fairtrade activists, who claims they're a market-driven, voluntary group
Roger: When did you stop beating your wife?
AJE: erm, i'm not married... but can you answer the question
Roger: You didn't answer my question, wife beater.
I have no idea how to proceed with someone that is so evidently unwilling to engage in an adult conversation. Since he refuses to subject the fairtrade system to scrutiny, or to explain a complete contradiction in his own claims, I can only conclude that he's a smug fraud.
In a seperate article on Fairly Informed we see:
An obvious example is single mothers in the US who are forced to put their children in day care so they can work... except the day care costs more than they make at work. They end up losing.
I think that people are rational. Whilst the term rational can be debated as to it's precise meaning, and contrasted to "purposeful" or similar terms, we all essentially mean the same thing: that people prefer more of a good to less, that they're likely to buy more of something if it becomes cheaper, that if they see a £20 bill on the pavement they'd pick it up, that lines in a supermarket will be of roughly equal length.
This is economic theory.
If you disagree with me on this, then not only do you deny the validity of economic analysis, but the cognitive capacity of a poor person to use money in accordance with their preferences. In Esteban's "obvious" example we see an assertion that single mothers are stupid. So stupid, they spend more money on day care than they earn at work.
Just as an intern that works for nothing early in their career is not being irrational, the observation of a women losing money whilst in work may be rational. I'd go so far as to say that it is rational, because if she didn't think it made her better off, she wouldn't do it.
At the end of the day, if poor people are so stupid that they're incapable of making choices that make them better off (as Esteban claims) then what's the point of them having prosperity? There'd be no reason to think they'd spend income on food, and would be just as likely to starve. There'd be no reason for them to eat food rather than paint with it.
And if we deny economic theory (as my opponents suggest), what do you propose? How do we know that the price of coffee is in any way linked to the wages of coffee farmers? Please, try to explain how fairtrade works without using a theory of economics.
It may appear "scientific" of me to keep insisting that we discuss how things work rather than what we're hoping to achieve, but what's the goal? Results, or good intentions?
Throughout the debate - spanning blog comments and emails - my ethics have been questioned, my motivations have been questioned - even my academic status has been questioned, but the content of what i'm saying? Nothing. Just met with a denial of economic theory (and theory in general), assumptions that the world's poor are stupid, and the obfuscation of language.
I should point out that this isn't meant as a personal attack on anyone - just an attack on their arguments. I'd arranged to meet up for a beer with one of the commentators and unfortunately he couldn't make it but I do hope we'll get chance to hang out - I am in this to learn, and to have fun.
For those who geniunely want to discuss fairtrade coffe (rather than personalities, motivations, and aspirations) then please step forward. I hope that this attack on the muppets who've let down the fairtrade position, will be motivation for those that do understand it, and are willing to think about it, to step forward and engage.