Friday, December 15, 2006

Free Trade, Fair Trade and What We Have

Mason's student newspaper--Broadside--had an article concerning fair trade, advocating university students take up the practice. I was actually surprised by the article. Instead of the same emphasis on "market failure," Tsedey Aragie makes note that the WTO isn't about free trade (though I would argue it promotes a trade that is freer than what was standard before its conception). Some fair traders even acknowledge that local and supra-governments (WB/IMF) are a key source of strife.

Normally, I agrue that free trade is fair trade. But what is "fair?" If by "fair" we mean that each side benefits equally, then virtually no trade is fair; that bar is set too high. Instead, I checked; the first definition is "free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice." Note that free trade restrictions violate these things, especially bias and injustice.

Sometimes people make mistakes because people are not perfectly informed. Again, this does not inherently remove fairness. It might be unfortunate, but it is not unfair. Still, people might be conned, an act made unfair because of its dishonesty. In essence, these are contract violations (one of those few things I think the government should do: enforce contracts). Still, I don't see how this is grounds for distinguishing between free and fair. Just because people are being paid less than other people think they should be, does not mean they are victims of dishonesty.

What we have is neither free nor fair trade. Government restrictions on the former create less on the latter. I'd be more impressed with fair trade if its backers lobbied to create more free trade.


Tim said...

Most of the anguish I see in this area is concentrated in how either:

A) Traditional lifestyles are being destroyed by globalization; and

B) The jobs people find themselves taking aren't great by first-world standards.

For the first comment, I just wish people would agree that you don't have a right to be a farmer, software engineer, or whatever else you wish you could be. You have the right to seek to be whatever you want, but if nobody wants what you're selling, I think you need to think about changing - NOT about getting the government to subsidize you, since you can't actually produce enough value to support yourself.

This is what you see going on with the European CAP, as well as with rice farmers in the American Southwest (yes, tropical/sub-tropical crops growing in a desert - brilliance at its best).

As to the second, these are jobs taken freely - if they're not, that's an entirely different problem. They're taken for good reasons - they tend to pay more than working on a farm, they tend to be safer than mining for coal, etc.

In short, people are choosing their best options in that case - what about giving them a better alternative and them accepting is unfair, and needs correcting?

Anonymous said...

How are free trade restrictions unjust? Seems like laws restricting what can be traded makes it MORE just, not less. For example what about illegal drugs, slaves, stolen property, kiddie porn, laundered money?

Justice, and therefore injustice, is a morality question. So restricting the trade of what the law finds immoral is just and therefore part of fair trade.