I'm A Jerk

No surprise there. Sometimes I withhold saying things on this blog because it might offend people I love. I gravitate towards more sterile posting so as not to make people think ill of me. But the more I live, the more I realize that we all should be able to disagree and not take it personally. And if I can't throw out a dissenting view to get people thinking, then I'm just not doing my job. With that in mind, I offer you something that has been bothering me a long time that I've wanted to harp on:

Fair Trade.

I know it's the new, sexy thing to get behind and, on the surface, it seems to make sense: help the marginalized workers in third world countries become viable sellers by setting up structures to guarantee their success. When I was going to write about this last year, I was partially motivated by this BBC article which presents the holes present in this thinking. Chief among them is that fair trade is yet another instance of we in the West imposing our methodology of success upon the less-fortunate third world worker, once again causing them to become dependent on our consumption in order to survive. Additionally, it works against the principle of supply and demand, as these third world farmers are usually told to produce what we want them to.

I really have no desire to make a fully defended article on this topic, suffice to say that I'm extremely skeptical that fair trade will work over the long haul. I'm not saying fair trade is evil, and I'm not saying that those promoting fair trade are ignorant, but I am saying that while the intention of fighting world poverty is a good one, fair trade won't even make a noticeable dent in the conflict. In fact, it seems to reek of the Western oppression on the third world that many who support fair trade vehemently decry.

Finally, allow me to speak pastorally for a moment. As many churches are now choosing to involve themselves in fair trade, we should be careful how we articulate the issue. Fair trade should not be defended as part of the gospel mandate to serve the poor. Sure, it can be a good thing to be involved in [much like recycling] but is not a more holy endeavor than any other*. This issue is much more convoluted than any might proclaim it to be. We could do much better work by recognizing the tangible ministry to the poor in our midst than to try to reconstruct international economic structures.

There. Now I feel better that I got that out of my system.

*I am not convinced, however, that fair trade is anti-gospel. So Christians who have convictions to be involved in the movement are free to do so. Just don't use Jesus as a way to induce guilt to those who disagree. I liken the situation to playing Scrabble: it's not a Christian/pagan issue if you like it or not, so you can chose freely whether or not you'll participate [unless, of course, you play Scrabble with a Ouiji board. Then Jesus will get ticked].