Posts Tagged agriculture

The Most Meaningless Man in the World

For almost a year, I have written for the American Enterprise Institute’s Common Sense Concept project, which has recently undergone a drastic renaming and rebranding.

The project has now re-emerged under the name Values and Capitalism, along with a fancy new web site, some forthcoming books, and an ever-increasing array of other resources. You can find the new blog here, view my author page here, subscribe via Facebook here, and follow on Twitter here.

My most recent post follows up on a series of fair trade posts, further pondering how we might best love our neighbor as it relates to “fair prices.” The solution, once again, has to do with cutting agricultural subsidies.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for something more peppy, our project recently released two promotional videos to cement its message (or, perhaps, the message we are trying to subvert).

Additionally, with coincidental timeliness, the guy in the video seems to capture the Occupy Wall Street sentiment quite nicely. (i.e. Want to change the world? Break somethingor yell at people.)

Watch the first video below:

For more on the Values and Capitalism project, see the following Read the rest of this entry »

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A Real Fair Trade Solution: Kill the Big Ag Behemoth

I have routinely criticized “fair trade” schemes as ineffective, inefficient and counterproductive — a convoluted form of temporary charity that would be better if treated as temporary charity.

The real problems that cause poverty are deep and complicated, and they cannot be fixed by magical price inflation by Westerners (particularly when our own view of value is as distorted as it is).

As I pointed out in my review of Victor Claar’s book on the subject, one of these problems is often the nature of the given market. When it comes to coffee, for example, Claar explains that “coffee growers are poor because there is too much coffee.” The solution is hardly, “more coffee!”

Many of these realities are difficult to change for good reason: accurate, voluntarily determined prices reflect the real preferences of real people who are just trying to create real value. This includes both the consumer and the creator (the coffee grower). Yet other realities are stubborn because they are involuntarily determined.

This is where we should be setting our sights, and this week at AEI’s newly rebranded project, Values and Capitalism (formerly Common Sense Concept), I focus on one of the biggies: agricultural subsidies.

Here’s a taste:

Although the aims of “fair traders” are often noble (e.g. when “equality of outcome” doesn’t masquerade as “fairness”), their efforts would be much better spent tackling the real problems that impact economic development in the long term. If we’re looking for a game of Demolish the Western Privilege Machine, agricultural subsidies are a marvelous piñata.

The price distortion caused by such subsidies is summed up nicely by Daniel Sumner in an AEI paper on the subject:

Farm commodity subsidies—including price and income supports—crop insurance subsidies, and disaster aid encourage US production and disadvantage farmers who attempt to compete with subsidized production from the United States. These programs stimulate more production when Read the rest of this entry »

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Fair Trade as a Non-Solution: A Christian Response to Price Manipulation

Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution, Victor Claar, Acton Institute, coffeeFair trade products have become increasingly popular, particularly in churches and various Christian communities. To investigate the merits of this approach, economist and friend of the blog Victor Claar recently wrote Fair Trade: Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution.

This week at Common Sense Concept, I review Claar’s book and echo the key criticisms therein.

A significant part of the book — and a big part of its significance — is its objective examination of coffee markets and the fair trade scheme as a whole:

Given that coffee is perhaps the most popular of fair-trade commodities, Claar focuses his attention there, providing an initial overview of the coffee market itself, followed by a discussion of fair trade strategies as commonly applied. Here, we learn a few important things: (1) coffee is easy to grow, (2) its price is inelastic, and (3) the “market appeal” of one’s beans is essential for success. Additionally, and most importantly, (!!!) demand is dropping while supply is rising. “Simply put,” Claar explains, “coffee growers are poor because there is too much coffee.”

From there, Claar dives into analysis, considering each detail as it relates to common Christian concerns. I’ve read plenty of books that critique fair trade in general terms, but Claar’s views on the proper Christian response are a unique addition to the discussion.

Overall, Claar views such schemes as a means for reinforcing barriers rather than removing them:

Instead of imposing our top-down plans on our neighbors across the globe, Claar suggests that we “work to make trade freer for everyone in our global community: a level playing field for all.” Although it might lack the punch, trendiness, convenience, and immediate satisfaction of buying the right pack of coffee beans at the right socially-conscious grocery store, it actually works (e.g. the 20th century).

To read the full review, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Intensive Farming: Why I Love Pesticides

I know that I very recently wrote a post discussing Matt Ridley’s new book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. But he has posted another video that sums up the underlying argument I made in a different post on organic farming.

I don’t want to indicate that I am completely anti-organic farming. I would argue that it’s just another form of market specialization. However, I do think it is important to note — as consumers, as producers, as undercover economists — that from a macro view, organic farming is not the Read the rest of this entry »

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Coffee in Rwanda: A Lesson in Individual Empowerment

Rwanda Coffee Exports by Unit Value of Destinations

Source: William Easterly / Aid Watch

William Easterly and Laura Freschi recently posted some encouraging words about Rwanda’s coffee industry over at the Aid Watch blog.

According to Easterly and Freschi, there have been some recent signs of success:

“There is preliminary evidence that the coffee industry is creating jobs, boosting small farmer expenditure and consumption, and possibly even fostering social reconciliation.”

In any other country, such progress might seem ordinary or mundane, but as you probably know, Rwanda has had its fair share of economic turmoil. Most are familiar with the tragic genocide that rocked Rwanda in 1994, but Rwanda’s socio-economic woes have roots that go back much further.

When it comes to the country’s coffee industry, Easterly and Freschi provide a brief history:

The history of coffee in Rwanda is intertwined with the country’s political fortunes, and stretches back to the 1930s when the Belgian colonial government required Rwandan farmers to plant coffee trees, while setting price restrictions and high export taxes, and controlling which firms could purchase coffee. These policies helped create a “low-quality/low-price trap” that would bedevil the post-colonial governments that continued similarly heavy-handed policies.

This poor foundation held the country down for most of the century, but it reached its inevitable collapse after the Read the rest of this entry »

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Organic, Local, and Slow: the Pampered vs. the Starving

Pesticide to be sprayed on food crops.

You can thank "poison" like this for helping us feed the world's billions.

Robert Paarlberg has a fantastic piece over at Foreign Policy on the negative organic food is having on the world.

“What’s that?” you say. “You mean I can’t improve my body, heal Mother Earth, and fix poverty in Africa all with one chomp of my socially-conscious organic apple? But I paid an extra dollar!”

People “go organic” for plenty of reasons, but whether it’s for health, the environment, or charity, Paarlberg argues that your efforts are ill-conceived and counterproductive.

But what’s his primary problem with the organic movement?

Helping the world’s poor feed themselves is no longer the rallying cry it once was. Food may be today’s cause célèbre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food “sustainable” — in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most.

Indeed, the way people obsess over the food they eat has always struck me as downright bizarre. I understand that we should eat healthy and take care of our bodies, but this global effort to organicize the planet has always seemed a bit overhyped and preachy to me — particularly because the evidence for the argument never seems to match the impetus for its execution.

The more I watch the organic movement’s momentum increase, the more I realize that its implications are much grimmer than I originally suspected. This isn’t so much on the health side of things — in fact, I don’t think there is really any difference on that front — but the push for organic food is doing great harm to the environment, as well as our efforts to decrease global poverty.

In case you didn’t know, many moons ago all farming was “organic,” and people were starving to death.  Some things never change, for you’ll notice that in most Read the rest of this entry »

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