Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fairtrade Coffee

An ec 10 student asked me a few weeks ago about "fairtrade coffee." Today, economist Mark Thoma has a post on his blog about the topic.

Neither Thoma nor the Peter Singer article he cites, however, sufficiently answers the key question: If you have a charitable motive, is it better to (1) distort your consumption patterns to buy more "good goods," or (2) satisfy your own desires in a self-interested way and donate the money you save to your favorite charity? When helping others, we should act as efficiently as possible in order to provide the greatest good to the greatest number. Does fairtrade coffee do that? Or does it just make the consumer feel better about himself? Singer's analogy that buying fairtrade coffee is like buying a Gucci label suggests the latter, although I know that was not his intention.