Monday, February 28, 2005

Is fair trade fair?

That was the question they were asking on Channel 4 news. They had a guy from the Adam Smith Institute, and he reckoned fair trade was doing more harm than good. Seems crazy? Well, sometimes things seem crazy at first sight because they are crazy!

There seemed to be two main points, and one prescription:

  • Fair trade diverts resources from where they are most needed. Mexico, which is comparatively rich (as less-rich countries go) gets a disproportionate slice of the "Fair Trade" market -- and the money is needed more by poor producers in Ethiopia than not-so-poor producers in Mexico. He did not discuss how much of any extra "unfair" trade in Ethiopia might actually get to the producers.
  • The other argument was that Fair Trade distracts people from things like European farm subsidies, which cause more poverty than mere unfair payments to producers.
The prescription, as always from the Free Trade lobby, was just that - more unfettered free trade, less regulation, less subsidy.

The Fair Trade representative pointed out that Fair Trade in all cases benefits the producers, and gives them a fair, living wage, whether in Ethiopia, Mexico, or elsewhere. He pointed out that there are Fair Trade goods from Ethiopia too.

Wouldn't it be better to have more Fair Trade in very poor countries, rather than less of it in fairly poor countries?

He also mentioned that the Make Poverty History campaign was trying to tackle institutions and systems that keep people and countries in poverty, and prevent them from helping themselves. They encourage people to contact their politicians about the issues. That will make a difference - it already has - but it will take a while. In the mean time, buying Fair Trade goods is something that we can do now and make a difference right away!

The interviewer got to the heart of the issue when he asked: "are you just using this fair trade issue as an excuse to push your free trade agenda?"

Of course I could buy more Fair Trade goods - but I still have to find a Fair Trade coffee that I like as much as the stuff where they flog the growers. And I have the sneaking suspicion that the supermarkets are pocketing too big a share of the fairtrade price hike.

But still...

Don't you know there's a war on?

It seems we need imprisonment without trial. Not for us, obviously; for them! For the bad guys! We've had it in Northern Ireland in the past and it failed magnificently, partly because the state's intelligence was not as good as we thought it was. Now that it's the 21st century, we're going to have another go.

The enemy is still terrorism. Islamic this time. Fundamentalist. Sneaky. The plan is simple - we'll slap them with a new "control order", and put them under house arrest, or stop them from doing bad stuff or talking to bad people (the news stories are vague about exactly what we'll stop them from doing, but presumably there's a big list, and presumably the government can add new stuff by "statutory orders" as they think of it).

How will we tell who are the terrorists? Well, that'll be the Home Secretary's job, using his new improved intelligence. It's better than the old sort, fortunately. And he'll only target the really bad terrorists that we can't deal with using existing law.

Is there any alternative? What else might you do with terrorists? Well, you could try surveillance: follow them, tap their phones, and see what they are planning - and then arrest them!

Unfortunately you couldn't actually charge them, since using phone tap evidence would violate their civil liberties. At least that's what the Home Secretary says. So he'll detain them (in their own homes this time) without trial. That's clearly much less of a civil liberties violation than using phone taps. Not only that - it'll save the police the bother of watching them, since they'll be completely unable to harm anyone, thanks to the control order. Best of all, it'll save on prison costs, which means lower taxes for the rest of us!

Dead clever, these politicians!

Whatever will they think of next? Democracy? Due Process? The Rule of Law? Freedom? You know - all those things the terrorists are determined to eradicate?

You have to admit, if we ever had a less principled, less honest, less democratic, less saintly government, the power to put someone under house arrest without actual evidence would be rather handy. And the authorities in China or Pakistan or Northern Nigeria would be able to legally lock up those pesky Christians that go around stirring up trouble.

Come to think of it, didn't Jesus hang around with people with terrorist connections? That Simon the Zealot guy? And wasn't Jesus a bit of a threat to the authorities. Maybe he should have been under house arrest?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Happy New Year!

It doesn't seem that long since the last new year (it's just over a month, in fact). Apparently this time it's the year of the rooster - so have a good one!

We really pushed the boat out tonight; pancakes again, for the second day in a row! What I really want to see is the celebrations for the end of the Century of the Fruitbat. That should be quite something!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

We had real beds...

We had real beds last weekend (most of us, anyway). We'd look a lot worse if we'd been sleeping in a barn, like last time.