Posts Tagged reasoning

The Fairest Trade of All

In light of my recent posts on the inadequacy of fair trade (1, 2, 3 & 4), I thought this recent debate on the topic was well worth sharing. The discussion includes AEI’s Claude Barfield, World Fair Trade Organization’s Paul Myers, and Henderson State University’s Victor Claar.

Watch it here:

Barfield provides a good historical backdrop, but Claar, whose comments begin at 33 minutes, provides a strong and thorough critique of fair trade’s failures in both fairness and economic results.

Some of my favorite lines from Claar, in no particular order:

  • “The fairest trade of all is trade that is genuinely free—free from political logrolling by politicians desperate for votes, free from opportunistic lobbying by industries like U.S. sugar and cotton, and free from the harm to the global poor that well-intentioned rich Northerners like us can sometimes bring.”
  • “When the price of something is low–like coffee, or sugar, or cotton–market forces normally direct people to make less of it and move onto something else. But fair trade interferes with the signal that prices ordinarily provide; Fair Trade can never serve as a sustainable long-term development strategy because it will never make people significantly richer than they are today.”
  • “Putting at least some faith in markets to be a powerful force for change in the lives of the poor does not amount to abdicating our concern for the poor–instead opting to cavalierly put our hope in little more than faeries and magic dust. Just as we trust gravity to keeps us all affixed securely to the ground, and just as the principles of particle physics assure you that the chair you are sitting in right now will not let you slip through its seat to the floor, markets work invisibly, but in ways that we understand reasonably well…The laws of physics are part of God’s providence; so are the laws of economics. And we fail miserably in our obligations to our Creator when we ignore the fundamental truths of economics in our efforts to aid the poor—even if our efforts flow from the very best intentions.”

One other item of note is how little argumentation Myers delivers in his primary remarks, throughout which he manages to disregard economic efficiency (because the poor benefit from waste?), downplay petty old “freedom” (because the poor prefer enslavement?) and elevate “rules and regulations” (because the problem is obviously too much access to markets?)—all without providing a substantive argument for how price manipulation benefits the poor and how price accuracy (is there a better word?) hurts them. He provides plenty of anecdotes about how the poor need jobs and affordable goods (is this news?), but provides no cohesive argument for why fair trade fulfills these needs and free trade perpetuates them.

Fair Trade: Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution, Victor Claar, Acton InstituteI’m guessing this lapse was largely unintentional, and that, aptly representing Thomas Sowell’s “unconstrained vision,” Myers simply assumes that the (supposed) morality of fair trade is self-evident—that those who oppose it must simply value economic efficiency over the interests of the poor (and, to be fair, some do). Thus, fluffy anecdotes and pious platitudes about the struggles of the poor suffice for a moral indictment of free trade. Unfortunately, most free traders believe what they believe precisely because  they think it benefits the poor. Myers should start his argument there (when he gets around to making one).

If these assumptions about Myers’ vacuous, emotion-driven remarks are true, then Claar’s later emphasis of Matthew 22:37 is even more relevant than intended.

How do we truly love our neighbor if we are aiming only to elevate our own personal, abstract notions of fairness without checking them against reason or results? How do we truly love the Lord our God if we rely only on our “hearts” and “souls” and not also on our minds? Further, as I’ve indicated elsewhere (1, 2, 3), what does it say about our “hearts” and “souls” if they are detached from an intentionally holistic love of God that looks beyond earthly emotions and assumptions?

Click here to read my review of Victor Claar’s monograph, Fair Trade: Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution.

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Communism’s Rational Faith vs. the Logic of the Soul

Witness, Whittaker Chambers, logic of the soulI’m currently reading Witness, an autobiographical account of former Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers’s flight from communism and the events that ensued thereafter.

This week at Values & Capitalism, I take a brief look at two extended quotes from the book’s introduction, each pertaining to the moral and spiritual backdrop of communism.

The first, on communism’s age-old resemblance:

Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die—to bear witness—for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it.

It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision…The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.

It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.

The second, on how one might convert from such a noble, utopian approach:

Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. ‘He was immensely pro-Soviet,’ she said,’ and then — you will laugh at me — but you must not laugh at my father — and then — one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.’

A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind’s. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.

Given that communism per se is not currently a prominent threat in the West, how might we think about Chambers’ critique of “rational faith” and his elevation of Read the rest of this entry »

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Intellectualism and Evangelicalism: Mental Adultery vs. the Rational Gospel

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John PiperEvangelicals have long winced with suspicion toward contributions from intellectual arenas. Whether faced with critiques about the legitimacy of the Flood, the coherency of the Trinity, or the plausibility of God himself, we are well known for responding with the “faith-that-doesn’t-need-answers” refrain. Rather than confronting intellectual challenges and engaging our minds as an act of faith, we twist such faith into a shield to be held over heads, protecting us from such conflicts as we close our eyes and mumble, “I’m not listening.”

In turn, intellectuals are quick to exploit such a response, claiming that evangelicals are nothing but a bunch of mindless zombies, brainwashed by cult leaders and clouded by happy thoughts. As Mark Noll put in his book on the subject, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Oddly enough, such a scandal is evident even among those who evangelicals assume comprise their intellectual front (i.e. the postmodernists). A good example of this can be found in the ongoing Rob Bell controversy, in which supposedly “anti-intellectual” conservative evangelicals are being derided left and right for engaging Bell in an intellectual challenge. Meanwhile, the supposedly brainy and overly nuanced Bell is being defended not on intellectual grounds, but on warm-and-fuzzy, “don’t-judge-me” togetherness. In one quick swoop of a Justin Taylor post and a simple John Piper tweet, Bell was quickly diminished by his defenders to being a mere “artist” rather than an impressive mind or a “serious theologian.” He is just “asking questions” we are told — having a bit of creative fun with the Scriptures in the same way a child might draw fanciful whatchamacallits on his driveway with sidewalk chalk. (“Don’t be hatin’ on the beauty, bro!”)

Making such a topic even more timely has been the entirely different (and far healthier) discussion launched by Matthew Lee Anderson on evangelicalism and natural law. This particular discussion, however, doesn’t indicate a lack of intellectualism in evangelicalism as much as it illuminates that the movement has its own unique view of the mind itself, bringing us back to the original challenge. For the evangelical, there is a transcendental tension between our supernatural understanding and our natural reason, and as is only natural (harty har), it can be hard for us to wrap our minds around it.

(Making this yet more timely still is Donald Miller’s recent post, which argues that the church’s problem is too much intellectual engagement instead of a lack thereof. Seriously.)

To cut through such tensions and offer some clarity, John Piper has released a helpful new book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (also the topic to last year’s Desiring God conference). For Piper, the supposed faith-reason dichotomy need not be a dichotomy at all. All we need is the proper Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Science of Morality: A Secular Argument for Cultural Competition

Last week, I came across an interesting talk by psychologist Jonathan Haidt called “The New Science of Morality” (via Arnold Kling).

Haidt is well known for his research on the evolution of morality through cultural and political lenses (he has authored two books on the subject), and he provides a good introduction to his views in this discussion.

You can watch the video here:

If you’re not in the mood to watch all 28 minutes, Haidt’s basic view on cultural formation is this:

I just briefly want to say, I think it’s also crucial, as long as you’re going to be a nativist and say, “oh, you know, evolution, it’s innate,” you also have to be a constructivist. I’m all in favor of reductionism, as long as it’s paired with emergentism. You’ve got to be able to go down to the low level, but then also up to the level of institutions and cultural traditions and, you know, all kinds of local factors.

Unlike this blog, Haidt believes in biological evolution, and likewise he takes a purely secular approach to discussing cultural evolution. However, his perspective is well worth considering, particularly because his conclusion points to Read the rest of this entry »

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