coffee and stupidity

Deeply unprofitable Crooked Timber thread produces an interesting point. Not so much “why do libertarians hate Fairtrade coffee?”, but why on earth do they insist on lying? From the link:

By guaranteeing a minimum price, Fairtrade also encourages market oversupply, which depresses global commodity prices. This locks Fairtrade farmers into greater Fairtrade dependency and further impoverishes farmers outside the Fairtrade umbrella. Economist Tyler Cowen describes this as the “parallel exploitation coffee sector”.

Coffee farms must not be more than 12 acres in size and they are not allowed to employ any full-time workers. This means that during harvest season migrant workers must be employed on short-term contracts. These rural poor are therefore expressly excluded from the stability of long-term employment by Fairtrade rules.

The problem here is paragraph two; I’ve not attempted to estimate the cross-elasticity of demand for Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade coffee, and it’s not the kind of thing I’d try unless someone was paying me to do it. But it’s perfectly simple to consult the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International standardisation documents and see if they actually forbid full-time employment or set a maximum limit on the size of farms. Here’s the standard on the use of hired labour. Requirement 1.5.1.13:

All regular work is undertaken by permanent workers…The objective is that as often as possible, work is undertaken by permanent workers. Only work that is added to usual work levels during peak seasons may be undertaken by seasonal workers.

So – no. Not even close. 180 degrees out, in fact. The point arises downthread that the great majority of work on a coffee farm is seasonal in nature, so Cowan couldn’t possibly have been right even if you let him have his own facts. This is marginally unfair to him; it’s not his prose, but rather something he’s (very) favourably quoting. The original source is here; note the cites back to Cowan and to people at George Mason University, the Koch Industries school.

For some reason, I still followed a link to his blog after this, to this interesting sociological result. Apparently, if you’ve been to jail, you’re more likely to self-identify as black when you leave jail then when you went in. This is interesting, but then numskull racist twit Steve Sailer showed up in the comments. As far as I can make out from his semi-coherent comments, he’s very angry about this, which is odd for someone who believes in biological racism (surely it wouldn’t matter? your DNA, after all, doesn’t care which census box you tick).

Further, Sailer’s freakout reminded me of the old joke about the Wee Free minister who hears that a hippie commune has moved into the next island along. He listens icily as the various novel features are described – the long music, the loud hair, the ruthlessly commercial communists, etc. Eventually they tell him the newcomers believe in free love. “Free love?” he explodes. “That could lead to mixed dancing!” Similarly, it’s clear from Sailer’s comments that he’s opposed to rape in prison because he thinks it might lead to multi-culturalism. And does he think about it. All the time, it seems.

Perhaps his mate Anthony Browne from PolEx could offer him counselling as part of the Big Society?


  1. Tom

    It’s interesting, then, to note the relative attitude to fair trade in Tory and non-Tory London borough councils, particularly given the libertarian fifth column pervading some borough politics.

    “The following boroughs are expected to apply for Fairtrade status: Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Haringey and Merton.
    Nine boroughs have not yet achieved Fairtrade status and are not expected to apply: Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster”

    Thanks for the reminder about Browne, I’d forgotten him. There seems to be a move back to the PXers in London lately, too – I suspect they just went quiet for a bit.




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