Posts Tagged fairness

Fair Trade Clothing: Keeping Silly in Style

I have critiqued fair trade schemes in the past (here, here, and here), and this week at Values & Capitalism, I do it again, specifically as it relates to clothing.

Relevant Magazine recently published an article on the subject by author Julie Clawson, who attempts to “debunk some common objections to shopping ethically.” Although not aiming to provide a comprehensive justification for such schemes, the article serves as a nice examination point to observe some of the fundamental errors underlying the orientation.

The article tries to “debunk” four common excuses for not “shopping ethically” (whatever that means), which include the following:

  1. Ethically made clothing isn’t stylish.
  2. Ethically made clothing is more expensive.
  3. I can’t find clothing that is ethically made (in all areas).
  4. If I don’t buy ethically made clothing, at least the workers in sweatshops will still have jobs

The most fundamental question, of course, is what constitutes “ethically made clothing,” but the last of these “excuses” (#4) gets closest to the core of the issue.

A sample from the author’s piece:

I am disturbed by the assumption that a worker’s only options are a horribly abusive job or no job at all. Such a view assumes reform is impossible and that conditions can never improve. The call to eliminate sweatshops is not a call to shut down factories (which is too often the path taken by clothing companies caught in unethical behavior); it is a call to improve conditions in those factories. The point is not to destroy jobs and lives but to bring healing to those already broken.

An excerpt of my response:

No. Such an “assumption” is no assumption at all. “Such a view” does not assume that “reform is impossible and that conditions can never improve”; it merely recognizes that such factories are currently the best options in these countries, or are, at least, the best options in the minds of their employees. If these companies picked up and left and their employees were left to beg on the street, would “reform” be suddenly made more possible?

What it does assume is that trying to manipulate companies against their will and instituting arbitrary price targets and controls is counterproductive. It assumes that no company with real-life competitors and sensible shareholders will or should agree to blindly pulling prices out of Clawson’s magic bag. It assumes that buying jeans with materials produced at low costs in Venezuelan sweat shops is more in the interests of the Venezuelan people than supporting an ineffective, inflationary “social justice” cartel or starting a bloody war with Hugo Chavez. It assumes that real economic “reform” and progress is a messy thing, and that America didn’t get to its air-conditioned skyscrapers without its own share of nasty working conditions and low wages (more here).

Above all, it assumes that, in Clawson’s words, “the economics at play here are complicated,” and that changing the corresponding economic systems is even more complicated—much more so than, say, telling self-absorbed Westerners that by listening to their Inner Price Genies they can place a bet for “social justice” and save the world in style.

Read the full critique here.

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For Unto Whom Much Is Given, Less Shall Be Required

President Obama recently spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, during which he furthered his usual conflation of Christian charity with progressive policies.

From the speech:

[W]hen I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.

Such “shared responsibility” can, of course, make economic sense—e.g., if rich folks aren’t already paying their “fair share,” if we actually can increase government revenues by further squeezing the rich, if government revenues are actually being used in ways that help poor/middle-class families, etc.

But particularly after a State of the Union address in which the President promised to ramp up spending across the board, it is ever more difficult to swallow the notion that spelunking the pockets of the rich will somehow alleviate the plight of “ordinary Americans.” Let us remember: This is a President whose solution for economic collapse is to inflate skill-heavy industries such as energy and high-tech manufacturing (the uneducated poor are likely unenthusiastic). This is a President whose solution for inflated tuition costs is doubling the number of minimum-wage work study jobs. You can tax the rich all you want, but until you cut your blind addiction to counterproductive spending, such an approach will make little “economic sense.”

But it gets worse. Obama then moves to argue that forced economic redistribution also makes spiritual sense:

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’… To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” … Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need.

Setting aside the President’s peculiar tendency to use “I am my brother’s keeper” as an imperative for Christian service (“I really do know what happened to Abel!”), he is falling prey the most typical of progressive tendencies: (1) confusing Jesus’ call of radical obedience to God with a call of radical obedience to the State, and (2) debasing Jesus’ parables to be wholly materialistic in their scope.

God requires plenty from us, but he wants us to obey him, not the arbitrary dictates of political rulers. Just as he gives us much more than stuff, he also expects us to do much more than give our stuff away (or have it seized away). I have commented on these errors time and time again.

The irony is that the society in which an equality of outcomes is an overarching policy aim is the society in which the people “to whom much is given” start dropping like flies. When the moralistic bureaucrats on top of the hill try to determine how much has been given to whom and how much is too much, God is quickly reduced from being our ultimate source and guide to a mere excuse for government meddling. When leaders like Obama pretend that Jesus was/is encouraging us to blindly submit our resources to a massive inefficient bureaucracy, being a bond slave of Christ becomes no different than being a robot for 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.

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Collective Bullying: The Social Injustice of Public-Sector Unions

This week at Common Sense Concept, I comment on the recent goings on in Wisconsin, focusing specifically on what I call the social injustice of collective bargaining in the public sector.

Here’s an excerpt:

The most dizzying of the spin has been the notion that public workers are entitled to a “right to collective bargaining” — a claim made so frequently and with such conviction that one would assume the taxpayers were granted some bargaining powers of their own.

But alas, although politicians began to invent such rights in the 1950s, the merits of these unique privileges have been highly contested, even by the likes of pro-union leaders like FDR and George Meany.

If you think that “social justice” is an odd way to approach the issue, I am somewhat sympathetic. (What doesn’t constitute social justice nowadays?) But as long as folks are tossing the label around about fake exploitation (as they often do), I thought I should at least be entitled to use it about the real stuff:

Framing my argument in terms of “social justice” will surely strike the pro-public-union crowd as odd. After all, they are the ones scolding the rich for “excess” and comparing Wisconsin teachers to third-world sweat-shop workers (need a laugh?). But when one begins to understand the unfair advantages that public-sector unions hold over the rest of the citizenry, such moping and mourning is quickly revealed to be the posturing Phariseesm that it is.

After examining the ins and outs of various public-sector advantages (relying heavily on Yuval Levin), I conclude that the institutionalized, coercive privileges held by public-sector unions are far more troublesome than their bloated line-item status in the budget:

Governor Walker claims that his actions are fundamentally about the budget, but based on the reactions from the unions (“It’s not about the money!”), it appears that the real gem they treasure is their coercive “right” to collectively bargain over the funds of the private citizens they are supposed to serve — a privilege of unfair and exploitative advantage.

To read the full post, click here.

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Q&A with Arthur Brooks: A Conversation about The Battle

Arthur BrooksThroughout the 1990s and 2000s, the term “culture war” was used to describe a variety of public moral conflicts. AEI’s Arthur Brooks sees a new fight taking place in today’s culture, but this time it’s not about guns, abortions, or gays.

This time it’s a battle over free enterprise.

Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute, successfully captures this struggle in his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future.

Brooks was kind enough to talk about The Battle with Remnant Culture in this one-on-one interview. I am confident his answers will sufficiently whet your appetite, but I also encourage you to read my highly favorable review if you’re interested in purchasing a copy.

Q: Your primary argument is that we are currently in the midst of a culture war between free enterprise and big government. Why do you see this as a cultural struggle?

The struggle between free enterprise and big government is not about which system is more efficient at producing goods or services. It’s about who we are as a people — about our beliefs and values. It shows what we think about things like fairness, initiative, self-reliance, and accountability. These aren’t economic terms. They’re “character” terms, expressions of culture. Free enterprise is the system that best accommodates these values and beliefs, and this makes the struggle against big government a cultural one. The fact that free enterprise also is the most efficient means of creating wealth and economic growth is a secondary consideration. Though not a bad one, at that.

Q: Explain the concept of the “70-30 Nation.

As I point out in The Battle, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of free enterprise. No matter how pollsters frame the question, about 70 percent of us prefer free enterprise over big government. The other 30 percent are more inclined toward the statism and redistributionism of Europe’s social democracies. The “hard core” of the 30 percent is made up of the usual suspects — from the worlds of academia, the media, and entertainment industries. And most worryingly of all, it is comprised of a growing number of young people.

Q: If the 30 percent coalition currently holds the “moral high ground” on economic issues, why do they remain at a mere 30 percent of the population?

Well, as we saw in the 2008 elections, the 30 percent has the ability to expand into a majority, on occasion. It was the financial markets crisis that gave them the opportunity to do just that. They developed a “narrative” about what caused the crisis, who was to blame for the crisis, and how government would Read the rest of this entry »

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