Fair trade and the law of unintended consequences

Some businesses cynically promote “giving” that is more about making us feel good about ourselves than truly helping others.  Think of companies who sell marked up water where a deliberately undefined percentage of the proceeds goes to charity.  Instead of paying an extra 50 cents for a commodity where perhaps a nickel goes to some ill-defined charity and the other 45 cents profits the company, I recommend donating the whole 50 cents and buying your water elsewhere.  Or drink tap water.  Now you get to release endorphins for being generous and wise.

Fair trade coffee is all the rage in many churches.  Does it really help those it attempts to, or is it another counterproductive measure? Read some interesting thoughts at Is fair trade really fair? | Reason To Stand.

  • Fair trade trades in the same markets of empathy that charities do.
  • It does not have the power to lift whole nations out of poverty like free trade has because it ignores basic market principles.
  • It preys on the desire to feel good (as opposed to actually doing good) that many people (mostly liberals) have.
  • It assumes an unsubstantiated predatory view of markets.
  • It encourages inefficient economic practices (by discouraging mechanization)
  • It encourages people to stay in agriculture when they could move to other industries which could produce more wealth for more people.
  • It fosters a moral hazard where lower quality goods can be foisted onto artificially captive markets (ie. moral-minded churches) while higher quality goods are sold on the free market. I’ve been the unlucky recipient of this sort of deal where a local church provides fair trade coffee which costs as much as Starbucks but tastes like burnt rubber. This is wholly unfair to the consumer.
  • Fair trade is based on a Marxist economic understanding where equality of outcomes is held to be the standard of “justice”. For this reason you’ll hear a lot of talk of “social justice” in pro-fair-trade material.

It has come to this: I’m blogging about oatmeal

Oatmeal directly from the packing.

Image via Wikipedia

No, I haven’t run out of things to write about.  I have over 100 partial drafts and ideas and wish I had time to write more. But this topic is so important it couldn’t wait.

First, I’ve been on an oatmeal kick lately for my 9:00 P.M. feeding.  I learned a trick from my wife, which is to put frozen fruit in with the milk and oats before I heat it in the microwave.  I have a variety of frozen fruit around for my shakes (blueberries, strawberries, mixed berries, cherries, peaches), and it adds some natural sweetness to the cereal.  Super healthy, filling and tasty.  Oh, and very inexpensive.

Then there’s this about McDonald’s new product: How to Make Oatmeal . . . Wrong.  They managed to mess up something as simple as oatmeal.  I just tried it the other day before I read this article.  I figured they had done something right in offering a healthy alternative, but instead of three ingredients (oats, milk, fruit) they end up with more than 15.

The oatmeal and McDonald’s story broke late last year, when Mickey D’s, in its ongoing effort to tell us that it’s offering “a selection of balanced choices” (and to keep in step with arch-rival Starbucks) began to sell the cereal. Yet in typical McDonald’s fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad choice. . . . “Cream” (which contains seven ingredients, two of them actual dairy) is automatically added; brown sugar is ostensibly optional, but it’s also added routinely unless a customer specifically requests otherwise. There are also diced apples, dried cranberries and raisins, the least processed of the ingredients (even the oatmeal contains seven ingredients, including “natural flavor”).

A more accurate description than “100 percent natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”

. . .

The aspect one cannot argue is nutrition: Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

It is so filling that I imagine it would be great for people trying to lose weight.  Eat oatmeal first then you won’t be as hungry for other things.

Finally, it occurred to me that for people on limited budgets – and definitely for people on welfare – oatmeal is one of those perfect foods: Inexpensive, filling, tasty (enough) and nutritious.