“Critics of John Maynard Keynes were so determined his economics were wrong that they allowed Keynes to dictate the terms of the debate,” says Victor Claar, professor of economics at Henderson State University, in his Acton University lecture. He continues to describe Keynes flawed anthropology with respect to classical economists and the Great Depression. Key observations of human nature include the principles of work, property, exchange, and division of labor. We can survive and prosper, take ownership of our work, support and rely on each other through exchange, and specialize in exchange at an opportunity cost. Furthermore, these observations are linked to moral imperatives.
On Thursday at 9PM EST, Victor Claar will be a guest on “Stossel” on Fox Business. Claar and John Stossel will discuss fair trade coffee. Claar frequently lectures on the fair trade movement at Acton University and wrote, Fair Trade? It’s Prospects as a Poverty Solution. If you can’t catch the premier of the show, it will air again multiple times, including on Fox News at 10PM EST on Sunday, December 15. The full episode will also be available online several days after the original airing.
The protests organized by labor organizations to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage have garnered attention, most recently from the NYT, which editorialized in favor of such moves. Over at Think Christian, I weigh in with an attempt to provide some more of the complex context behind the moral evaluation of such mandates.
In the piece, I’m really less interested in the plight of current-minimum wage workers relative to those who might become minimum-wage workers with an increase, those who are currently priced-out of labor markets because of minimum-wage legislation, and those who will be priced out with an increase.
Earlier this week, Joseph Sunde discussed the issue with an eye towards the price of labor: “Prices are not play things.” I largely agree with Joseph about the significance of the price associated with various kinds of labor. The signal that minimum-wage workers should be receiving is that their work is not that specialized or valuable in the marketplace. You can rage against the values of the marketplace all you like, but that’s what the prices signal.
Samuel Kampa recently reviewed Victor Claar’s monograph, Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution. Kampa begins by commenting on how quickly the “fair trade” moment has gained popularity, especially among the college and post-college aged, but also in the church community. He says that young people “are doing one thing right: expressing sincere concern about world poverty. If this concern can be channeled into effective action, great things can happen. Of course, effective is the key word.”
First, he offers a short list of reasons, given by fair trade advocates, why the fair trade movement is necessary:
1) Many farmers and workers in the international community receive very low prices for foods and commodities and are forced to live on less than $2 a day.
2) Many of the foods that Western consumers eat have been harvested by grossly underpaid farmers and workers.
3) The fact that Western consumers benefit at the expense of impoverished farmers and workers is both unfair and morally undesirable.
4) Agencies like Fair Trade USA guarantee fairer prices for crops and commodities, vastly improving the quality of life of farmers and workers.
5) Fair trade products are more expensive than non-fair trade products, but fair trade farmers and workers are receiving fairer prices.
6) Fair trade materially benefits the lives of impoverished farmers and workers at little cost to the consumer.
7) Therefore, consuming fair trade products is morally preferable to consuming non-fair trade products.
Kampa explains Claar’s conclusions about fair trade: “Far from improving the lot of the poor, fair trade actually hurts non-fair trade farmers, keeps fair trade farmers in relative poverty, and diverts money from more efficacious charitable endeavors.” Kampa offers the two main critiques against the movement from the monograph as: “(1) Fair trade economically damages non-fair trade farmers. (2) In the long term, fair trade does more harm than good to fair trade farmers.” He then points out that “if true, [these two critiques] damage premises 4-7 in the pro-fair trade argument outlined above.” (more…)
“Who could be against fairness?” Victor Claar asked this question at Acton University last month. He and Travis Hester gave a talk titled, “Fair Trade Versus Free Trade” with their focus on the coffee industry. They explained what the fair trade movement is, evaluated its effectiveness, and explored ways for caring people to help coffee growers overcome poverty.
Before looking at the fair trade movement, it is important to note that coffee is what economists call an inelastic good. That means that if the price of coffee increases, the quantity demanded will not decrease by a lot. Claar puts it simply: “If coffee prices rise, coffee drinkers will probably buy less coffee, but probably not much less.” Spikes occur frequently in coffee prices due to bad weather and the delicacy of Arabica coffee plants. The price of coffee is volatile and is, according to fair trade advocates, too low. (more…)
Poverty, development, and stewardship tend to be topics both of discussion and personal reflection as we are reminded to count our blessings around this time of year. If similar ideas have been on your mind, you may be interested in Globalization, Poverty, and Development, an AU Online lecture series that explores the theme of human flourishing and its relation to poverty, globalization, and the Church in the developed world. Join Mr. Brett Elder, a director at Acton Institute and creator of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible and Dr. Victor Claar, a professor of economics at Henderson State University, for online sessions scheduled for Tuesday, December 11 and Thursday, December 13 at 6:30 pm EST.
Everyone who registers for the Globalization, Poverty, and Development series (or subscribes for an All Access Membership) has access to the recordings and resources shared on the course page. This means you can still register for the course even if you won’t be able to join us for the live sessions. Visit auonline.acton.org for more information and to register.
Is ‘fair’ trade really more fair or more just than free trade? Does fair trade create an unfair advantage that hurts the poor more than it helps? There are two different opportunities over the next few days where you can have the chance to explore this topic further.
Acton will be hosting Professor Claar for an online discussion tomorrow, May 9, at 6:00pm ET. In the AU Online session of his popular lecture Fair Trade vs. Free Trade, he will lead us through an analysis and comparison of arguments for and against both fair trade and free trade. Visit the AU Online website for more information and to register.