Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thoughts for the Day

More from my desk:

1. In another example of horrendous policy proposals, a group of Oregon lawmakers propose a $49 tax on every barrel of beer brewed in Oregon to strengthen the state's fiscal outlook. Link here.

This is a classic example of politicians looking for a politically convenient scapegoat. Sure alcoholism is a terrible thing but driving vibrant small businesses out of business is not the answer; the appropriate Pigovian response would be to structure a tax or set of incentives to levy more of the social costs on alcoholics or the social factors that are linked the closest to alcoholism.

This is also a classic example of politicians carrying out a cost-benefit analysis without considering the benefits. A summary of some of the health benefits of alcohol consumption is here. And an article about the social benefits of alcohol consumption and its positive relationship to income is here.

2. Zach Luye (@radzack on Twitter), a friend, student at the Journalism School, and brand representative for Adagio Teas, produced a review of some mint chocolate tea at Top Ten on Sunday. Here is the link to the Adagio website; to see Zach reviewing that tea, watch episode 7. Here is a photo of the filming in progress. Here is a photo of the brunch in progress, with @turtis providing the cheers.

3. Re-evaluating your diet can produce significant changes in your carbon footprint. Simple things like switching from beef to chicken (or even better yet, fish) can be profoundly meaningful if you want to do something about climate change. Article here.

4. Sam's Club is buying into the Fair Trade Movement. Post from Dr. Veseth, U Puget Sound.

My thoughts on Fair Trade: I certainly support taking the time and the care to know where your consumables come from; buying local food and artisanal products like wine is a great way to eat and drink healthier. I do have a few criticisms of the movement though. First, as Veseth notes, the certification process can be time-consuming and expensive, and few producers will really care to get certified. This also serves as a functional penalty on good, legitimate producers who choose not to be certified because they don't understand the process or because it's hard to be certified. Second, while human rights abuses are always bad, job creation and trade are always positive-sum things; trade liberalization has the very nice feature of bringing everyone along to the global marketplace and provides strong incentives for enhancing liberty. This is sometimes difficult to see in situations where companies or governments are doing legitimately evil things but ultimately its the ease of communication and information dispersal that trade brings along with it that strikes at the heart of things like tyranny. So if you care about changing the world, become part of the information marketplace and be vocal about the businesses and governments that violate liberty.

The other thing that we should do when talking about Fair Trade and human rights is look in our back yard. How many Californian vineyards use cheap migrant labor to produce grapes? How many vineyards exploit migrant labor? It would be appropriate to renegotiate the terms under which migrant workers can obtain employment to prevent unscrupulous businesses from reneging on payment promises or other things. If stories like this are true and are more common, then Fair Trade should mean for us that we start with re-evaluating the conditions of domestic production.

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