Letter: “Fair” trade nonsense

I was delighted to hear corporate coffee is coming to town, then “absolutely nauseated” reading Lori Schwab’s anti-capitalist Starbucks rant. Third-world farmers are not underpaid. World coffee prices have been declining for decades due to increased productivity through low-cost suppliers, mainly in Brazil, Columbia and Vietnam. What is evil about minimizing costs? Prosperity is measured by technology and productivity. The environmentalist religion would have us return to the days of costly, brute labor; hammer and sickle indeed.

“Fair” trade is nonsense. Any wage at market price is fair. Unless it’s slavery, trade is voluntary and workers are free to leave their jobs. Only governments have the power of coercion. Activists speak of paying these workers pennies, as if it’s a bad thing. Precisely why these “evil” corporations are overseas – lower wages. Schwab forgets a basic economic principle: comparative advantage. Of course they want to raise wages for workers! Drive up the cost of foreign labor to kill competition. Fair trade would further decline coffee sales, and thus money to farmers. They’ve suffered from a lack of demand and excess supply.

The alternative is giving them zero pennies. Should we force corporations to give unearned handouts? Work as slaves on the terms of foreign countries? I’m not justifying cheap foreign labor on the evil of charity, but on profitability. It’s irrational to claim farmers are underpaid; any benefits they receive are the inevitable results of free trade.

Human rights concerns about free trade are a cover to sugarcoat hatred towards capitalism. Whining like a humanitarian buys more sympathy than flat out saying a third-world worker doesn’t deserve a job.

Hatred towards Starbucks is just as disturbing. Wal-Mart and Starbucks are evil because they offer cheap goods. Microsoft is an evil empire because it charges too much. Where’s the logic? Starbucks and Wal-Mart are persecuted for the virtue success, without any government intervention. Once struggling enterprises, they drove out local shops through merit. “Need” does not entitle anyone to anything, unless they have something of value to offer. “Mom-and-pop” stores survive from the sheer purchasing power of chains like Wal-Mart. Otherwise, many suppliers would lose business, making it harder on local stores. Their cheap goods allow us to invest more money in more beneficial (profitable) ventures. You have every right to not patronize Starbucks. I hope it is based on merit alone and not blind loyalty to your local caf‚.

Arjun Baindur

freshman in engineering