organic-fair-trade-coffeeNew Orleans Any “protest” that has too many names is bound to be questionable, and that seems the case with some of the efforts to direct consumer consumption along political paths.  Among the assortment I saw recently in a piece by Anand Giridharadas in the Times: “boycotting,” ethical consumerism, moral economics, latte activism, critical consumption, and “charitainment.”  [My daughter, Dine’, uses a great term along a parallel path when she talks about people signing Facebook petitions for various causes:  slacktivism, i.e. slacker activism. Happy birthday to her today!]

My eye caught a story from Palermo, Italy about Comitato Addiopizzo, an anti-mafia civic effort, which had been described to me when I visited with local organizers in that city several months ago.  The committee used a fair-trade certification type process to identify business to their customers who had refused to pay the “pizzo” or bribe.  All good, right?  I was surprised though to read Giridharadas report that “…even though products from law-abiding companies often cost more.”  Your free marketers would normally argue that a business paying a bribe is almost an automatic trigger to raise prices and pass the rub off to the consumer.  Here we would be lead to believe that no longer paying the bribe (and therefore lowering the cost?) somehow leads to an increase in price.  Huh?  I understand the Palermo politics, but I don’t understand the Palermo economics?

None of that is really the point, except that in a blog several days ago I quoted Jeffery Ballinger’s analysis of the fact that too many consumers are unwittingly paying top prices for textiles and believing that they can do so safely now because various groups have certified that workers are getting their fair share in non-sweatshop conditions, yet it turns out the worker share in his example is an infinitesimal .47% or less than ½ of 1% of the total price (18 cents on $37.99).  It seems to me that before we put a moral or political seal of approval on these largely self-certified examples of political correctness, there needs to be exactly this type of full disclosure on what was actually done and who actually got paid.  Otherwise it’s not just the Palermo economics we need to question, but the in fact we need to ask the hard questions about whether this is a scam or a hustle.

Giridharadas also quotes a study by the Political Science Quarterly where 62% of Americans were willing to go deep in the pockets to pay a 25% premium for a sweater and 75% would pay an extra 50 cents per pound for fair trade coffee.  Very interesting, but I will bet every little penny in my jeans that the moment all of these buycotters find out this is not as it seems, then the game is over.

This isn’t real politics or real citizenship, but it is really important, and a weapon in the arsenal that we have to make surer is being fired with true aim and pure heart.  Right now, I’m not sure.