Saturday, May 14, 2011

Feel-good trumps do-good

Lawrence Solomon on fair-trade coffee:

...a study out recently from Germany's University of Hohenheim ... followed hundreds of Nicaraguan coffee farmers over a decade, concluded that farmers producing for the fair-trade market "are more often found below the absolute poverty line than conventional producers.  "Over a period of 10 years, our analysis shows that organic and organic-fair trade farmers have become poorer relative to conventional producers."

Several years ago, I received a call from a church in Kingston, inquiring whether Green Beanery could supply it with freshly roasted fair-trade coffee on a weekly basis ... the church officer mentioned that the parishioners wanted to do what they could to help poor farmers in the Third World. I replied that I'd be happy to supply the church, but I also advised him that fair-trade coffee would not help the poorest of farmers - these smallholders are actually hurt when Western consumers forsake them for coffee produced by better-off farmers who can afford the certification fees.  I also mentioned that various coffees produced by small farmers in some of the neediest parts of Africa would taste superb while costing the church less, allowing it to spend the difference on some other worthwhile cause.   After a long pause, the church official replied something like: "I still think the parishioners would feel better knowing that they were drinking fair-trade coffee." [That church must have been the United Church.]
... in this well-intentioned pricefixing game, the fair-trade farmer is the pawn and the joke is on the customer. ...
Might'a known. As in many "well-intentioned" socialist do-good schemes, the meddlers do more harm than good.


Joe said...

Be it noted that socialists believe poverty is a condition whereas conservatives believe poverty is a situation. Evidence is overwhelming that conservative assumptions are correct. Conditions are treated by keeping them in stasis. Situations change as the 'impoverished' individual takes control.

JR said...

Good point,Joe. I hadn't heard of that distinction before.