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Nov 02, 2007


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brad wright

The irony here is that the most powerful engines of human rights might also be rejected by those most interested in human rights.


Michael, looking at it from the other end, the question seems to boil down to who is standing in between. We have the producers and the market, with many levels of traders in the middle.

Looking at a commodity like tea, this is produced now in places like Kenya, Vietnam, India, and Sri Lanka. In India the producers are a struggling lot. Quite simply, the cost of production is higher than the international market value.

The small growers have all been wiped out. Almost all have sold their tea gardens to larger players who are have branded products and are directly supplying the consumers.

In this environment, looking at the prices that tea fetches at the consumer's end, it is obvious that that price has little to do with the actual cost of production. If a group was to take the tea at a little over production cost, the profit margin would still be excellent and the small grower could continue to tend her garden and supporter her family.

I live in a town that's not far from the big tea growing areas. This generation of youth have all left their gardens and come to the plains in search of any kind of work. Most of the gardens were sold in distress and fetched pitifully low prices...

I've seen our coffee producers also go through good and bad periods though not as bad as tea. it is something of a fact of life with commodity markets but inherently should we leave things like?

A generation of our youth have been stripped of their footholds in the economy and also of their heritage because of a 10 year crisis in global tea prices.

Michael W. Kruse

Sam, I think you are getting into one of more difficult aspects of economic ethics that deals with “creative destruction.” As markets mature and innovation happens, previous arrangements are often radically disrupted. It is an unavoidable reality for a growing economy. In a Western nation, where the economy has such a wide range of options for employment, the dislocation caused by creative destruction, while often problematic, are hardly life threatening. In circumstances like you are describing there is the potential that large corporate entity can “creatively destroy” people’s livelihoods, leaving them with no where to turn.

The challenge is in how to humanely let market economies emerge through creative destruction in humane and just ways. One danger is a callous destruction of people’s lives by carelessly introducing technologies and practices. The other danger is a conservatism that resists all change tries to perpetually maintain the status quo. It seems to be that justice is about finding the balance between these two ultimately destructive paths.

Michael W. Kruse

Brad, I think that is precisely what happens when over reaction to injustices in one direction pushes us to over react in another direction. We need discernment of justice that balances competing legitmate concerns not ideological polarization

Bob Robinson

I certainly appreciate the perspective of creating free market trade. This is certainly the best course of action.

I'm not sure that Fair Trade can be caricatured as a "faddish" or "fashionable" movement, or as an "anti-market plan."

I think that Fair Trade can be a stepping stone toward Free Trade.

For articles from the pro-fair-trade angle, check out "Justice and Fair Trade Coffee."

Michael W. Kruse

Miller is at a minimum pointing out some of the downside what is often called fair trade. I don't profess to be any expert on coffee production issues but I do get the sense that the issues very some by region and culutre.

I think that ultimately what we want to see is a develped economy engaging in free trade. But how do we get there? Unfortunately, I think many trade advocates try to impose a market structure instead of trying to emerge one. Meanwhile, some fair trade advocates seem to have an agenda that wants to forestall open markets from ever emerging. Neither is a very helpful approach. I simply haven't read enough of the specifics about the various ways fair trade is applied to coffee production but I've heard a variety of folks a respect express caution about secondary and unintended consequences.


Thanks for challenging the prevailing "orthodoxy"... even though it's the only attempt at "orthodoxy" we seem to care about these days!

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