We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Sean Gabb and Alex Singleton debating free versus “fair” trade

Incoming email from Sean Gabb:

Dear Brian,

I know this is not the best time or place for the debate – I believe much of the audience wants to leave afterwards to wander up and down outside Parliament waving candles or some such. I hope to be abed by then. But it may be an important event. If you cannot attend, please circulate.



I could attend but do not want to. I am going through a quietist phase just now. But I am happy to pass it all on:

Free Trade v Fair Trade

A Debate Organised by Christian Aid
St Margaret’s Church, Westminster (Near Parliament)
Friday 15th Aril 2005 – 11.50pm to 1am

What is best for poor countries? Do they need global free trade in goods and services? Or is this just a cover for western neo-imperialism? Do such countries instead need fair trade – a system in which local producers are encouraged to develop without competition from larger foreign countries?

Come along and listen, and have your say.

Chair: Alan Beattie, The Financial Times

For Free Trade: Dr Sean Gabb, Libertarian Alliance; Alex Singleton, Globalization Institute

For Fair Trade: Martin Khor, Third World Network; Prosper Heoyi, Oxfam

For further details, contact:
Leo Bryant
Campaign Events
Christian Aid
020 7523 2264

Sean adds the following:

Assuming other speakers will give permission, Sean Gabb will video the whole event, and will make DVDs available. He will certainly record his own contribution.

This flyer was put together by Sean Gabb on the basis of limited information. He had nothing to do with what he considers the dreadful time and place of the debate, but is told that around 700 people will attend.

Good luck gentlemen. I look forward to viewing the DVD.

26 comments to Sean Gabb and Alex Singleton debating free versus “fair” trade

  • I suspect this debate is something to do with this bunch: http://www.makepovertyhistory.org, about whom I have just (by coincidence) done a posting

    They are a huge collection of “charities”, quangos, unions etc and are running a big advertising campaign – culminating in White Band Day on 1st July when everyone in the country is supposed to wear a white band to show their support for “Trade Justice”.

    My suggestion is for libertarians to start a Black Band Day campaign to commemorate the millions who will die or be condemned to poverty if these people have their way.

    Good luck to Sean and Alex. I hope to be there in support.


  • Verity

    One thing all these arrogant, hectoring, self-righteous nitwits can do is stop colonising our language. I don’t remember voting for any of them to rewrite the definition of the word “fair”, the new definition (whatever it is; who can be bothered?) to mean that any product which has not earned their little imprimateur is, be definition, on sale thanks to exploitation of fellow human beings.

    I would also like them to vacate the territory of the word “liberal”, which they do not understand, mainly because they are ill-read. “Exploitation” is another word they need to have their thin, grasping fingers pried off, painfully, if that can be managed without leaving marks. People in Indonesia are queuing up to work in Nike (etc) factories because Nike pays wages above LOCAL wages and give benefits which, in the LOCAL economy, are highly desirable and sought after. (The young people working there would not, otherwise, be at school thoughtfully studying to be research chemists. They would be picking through city dumps looking for used containers to return for half a ringgit.)

    Fair trade is any deal that both the seller and the buyer agree to. I expect these little self-centred jerks will be shouting through megaphones and microphones this evening, keeping normal people with jobs, who keep the economy running, awake. I hope everyone in the flats round about calls the police. Just for the nuisance value and so they don’t get a permit next time.

  • Stuart

    Is this debate open to the public, if it is, shouldnt Free Traders, turn up and show there support, as i have a hunch that it will proberbly have its fair share of anti globalisation members there.

  • Verity

    It’s in a church. Obviously, it’s open to the public. Stuart shrewdly suspects there will be a “… fair share of antiglobalisation there …”. Hmmmm. He might be right, y’know!

    They’re setting the agenda, so let them have their little show. Why should normal, intelligent people turn out at 1:00 a.m.? Let them sing to the choir. Who the hell cares? Just a hunch, but I doubt whether Tesco will have a representative there to argue the supermarket case.

  • Johnathan

    For these jerks -“fair trade” is just a slimy euphemism for protectionism. A good example of the sheer canting hypocrisy of these folk is the recent imposition of tariffs by the United States against imports of cheap shrimps from Thailand. Yes, Thailand, the same country that urgently needs export markets to repair the damage of the tsunami.

    Another fallacy of these folk is they claim that if the cost of production in country X is cheaper than in country Y, then the terms of trade are “unfair”. But surely the whole point of trade is to get something at a cheaper price than you can make yourself, or why else trade in the first place?

    Verity, good points about certain words. “Exploitation”, alas, is a word which is still associated with the daft economics of Marx and his moribund labour theory of value. I’d love to see the “liberal” also restored to its proper place in the political dictionary. I live in hope.

  • Anyone know why they picked a time so late at night? Is it so the apathy displayed by the general public to their misguided moaning isn’t so immediately obvious?

    I’d love to come but unfortunately I have prior commitments. Besides I think we might be outnumbered, and as with most of these things when words fail the poverty history people they’ll just end up shouting louder.

  • “For these jerks -“fair trade” is just a slimy euphemism for protectionism. A good example of the sheer canting hypocrisy of these folk is the recent imposition of tariffs by the United States against imports of cheap shrimps from Thailand. Yes, Thailand, the same country that urgently needs export markets to repair the damage of the tsunami.”

    To put it politely, you’re talking rot.

    The lefty Fair Trade movement *oppose* Western agricultural protection just as strongly as any libertarian – indeed, the KICKAAS campaign, which aims to abolish all agricultural subsidies, quotas and tariffs, was founded by Fair Traders.

    If you want to abolish third world poverty rather than make cheap political points, the people that *both sides* should be fighting are the snout-in-trough politicians in Washington and Brussels, who force through egregious measures like the shrimp tariffs at the direct expense of the poor for electoral and personal-wallet advantage. Not each other.

  • Johnathan

    john b, I think we are at cross-purposes here. I know that some of the “fair traders” espouse abolition of tariffs, and good for them, but a lot of politicians who like to play the “fair trade” card also support tariffs. I was not just making political “cheap points” (Well, we are in an election!) At a recent European conference, I had to sit and listen to some moron of a trade union exec bleat about the CAP while simultaneously claim how evil free trade is. Puhleese.

  • “I know that some of the “fair traders” espouse abolition of tariffs, and good for them”

    No. They are all espouse abolition of some Western tariffs (not all – because otherwise the unions would get upset), but they all also espouse Third World countries imposing tariffs and giving subsidies to domestic industries – a recipe for corruption and poverty.

  • Sorry Johnathan – I misunderstood your comment: I agree that politicians who use “fair trade” rhetoric to justify domestic protectionism should be shot by all sides.

    Julius: I assume you can provide an example of a prominent “fair trader” (I mean an Oxfam-ish supporter of the poor, not one of the canting c*nt politicians so well-described by Jonathan) who doesn’t support the abolition of all rich-world domestic tariffs.

    The question of poor-world domestic tariffs is more of a challenge. Japan, Korea and Taiwan certainly managed to prosper with significant interventionism and protectionism in place; the jury is out on whether the “with” in the previous sentence is synonymous with “despite” or “because of”.

  • Johnathan

    John b, no offence taken sir. BTW, I do applaud the Kickass types. It ought to be a cause of the progressive liberal left to champion free trade, oppose tariffs and suchlike. Let’s face it, the Tories and Republicans have a spotty record on this issue.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    John B – I can’t provide you with an example of an “Oxfam-ish” official who demands the dismantling of rich world tariffs, yet supports those in the third world. However, during my brief time on earth, I have encountered many who are so immersed in pathetic Western guilt – sorry, concerned with equity issues – that they would happily hobble the economies of the rich world so that the third world can either catch up with us, or we can slip back to the third world level. The methods of these economic curmudgeons usually favours the latter. Anyway, I don’t doubt for a second that such types would love a scenario whereby the rich world has no trade barriers, and the third world remains protected, because such a scenario fits their agenda perfectly.

    This is totally unrealistic; tariffs are by nature retaliatory, and no responsible policymaker would sell out his own interests by allowing the non-reciprocal dismantling of trade barriers. Before anyone rushes to inform me, I know this occasionally happens in cases that concern politically sensitive sectors of particular economies, however compensatory concessions are nearly always extracted.

  • John Rippengal

    All my instincts and some experience is for free trade but the cases of Japan, Korea and Taiwan need answering. Based in Hong Kong which of course is or at least was the purest example of free trade in the world, I spent a great deal of time both in Taiwan and Korea. Undoubtedly Hong Kong was way ahead in development and at the same time had to support the vast influx of refugees escaping the ‘benefits’ of Chairman Mao’s socialism. It also had by far the best government in the area. This was in the two decades of the 60s and 70s.
    Nevertheless the strictly protected economies of first Taiwan and later Korea developed to quite astounding levels. There is no doubt that the work of some oustandlingly able and dedicated individuals paid a major role. I had the privilege of knowing some of them. Point is though how it all came out all right in what should have been the wrong economic approach.
    Certainly the exit of Chiang Kai Shek and Syngman Rhee and their cohorts seemed to allow the development to burst forth.

  • Verity

    Suffering – Is it ‘guilt’? I’ve never bought that. They have nothing to be guilty about because their ancestors were not in positions of power (most of them).

    I think it’s a job opportunity. They’ve spotted a chink that no one else wants because it is clearly bonkers (“I know! Let’s give everything we fought for back! Let’s destroy all our advantages! This is territory we can have all to ourselves, and get on the TV, because no one else is that crazy!”), and they’ve colonised it.

    I do not believe a single one of those morons suffers one itsy bitsy scintilla of guilt about anything.

  • sesquipedalian

    I admire the brave efforts in attempting to educate these flat-earthers in person….just don’t wear your best suits.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Verity: You are right – they have nothing to feel guilty about. However, never overestimate their intelligence. I think it is guilt of the strawman variety. I personally know quite a few people who have feelings about Western prosperity that I would define using the term “guilt”; misplaced, but guilty they feel nonetheless. I definitely don’t think they’re canny enough to identify a chink in the market – I hate to use the word in this context – however more intelligent and scheming people (messrs Blair et al) provide the jobs to keep their patrons/peons enraged, well-funded and thus generous; ultimately docile and useable.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    John Rippengal – Just a guess, but howsabout massive US assistance? It was clearly in America’s interest to create strong free-market bulwarks around China and the Soviet Union – the USA wanted as many hammers as possible bashing at that wedge between China and Russia in the late 50s/early 60s.

  • Verity

    Suffering – thank you for your comment. You mention the foul Blair and his minions. I think there are two distinct strains of this virus: First, there are the dimwits who affect to feel guilty because it demonstrates what wonderful Mahatamas they are; how sensitive their generous souls are! How they tower over the rest of mankind.

    Second is the Blair variety. They are the Gramscians intent on the destruction of society – making wrong into right; outlawing natural justice, pulling down the pillars of civil society, tearing down long-established laws and customs, refashioning the police as the masters not the servants, and all the other well-rehearsed tricks we have mentioned before.

    Two distinct strains, but the powerful ones, the Blairs, Straws, Mandelsons et al give the weaker, sillier ones the means to do damage through their silly propaganda, while Blair etc get on with the real job.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    demonstrates what wonderful Mahatamas they are

    Haha! Summed up perfectly. How nauseous they are. I hate that kind of self-preening git. Sadly, they’re not an endangered species.

  • “This is totally unrealistic; tariffs are by nature retaliatory, and no responsible policymaker would sell out his own interests by allowing the non-reciprocal dismantling of trade barriers.”

    Nonsense. Tariffs make people worse off; so it is in their interests to dismantle their own tariffs, irrespective of what others do. Otherwise, you are just cutting off your nose to spite somebody else’s face (as it were)

  • And gentlemen in England now abed / Shall
    think themselves accursed they were not here

    Good luck, guys.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Julius – I agree. However, we’re talking practice (and I mean track record, what we could expect from most governments), not theory.

  • James

    Various stars have been protesting outside Westminster for what their calling “fair trade”. Among them (and to my personal shame as an Irishman) Ronan Keating, who bloody-well should know better.

    And if this Kickaas organisation was set up by “fair trade” supporters, it’s clear they don’t have much in common with what much of the left calls “fair trade”. Or eventually realized the rubbish they were talking and quietly moved house. An example of what I consider to be mainstream “fair trade” philosophy is the Trade Justice Movement who organised the protest at Westminster as part of a night of protest.

  • Verity

    Right, James. Whatever.

    “The night began at Westminster Abbey, with readings and performances from Ronan Keating and Vanessa Redgrave.”

    It went on from there?

    Are you serious?

  • I'm suffering for my art

    James – why should he know better? Most crusading entertainers appear to know next to nothing about what they’re fighting for. Usually it’s their management deciding it’s a good way to raise a flagging profile by advocating some wet cause. Reminds me of lyrics from a song called Been Caught Wankin’ by Aussie satirical group TISM…

    Why is it just so hard not to gag
    When a rock star adopts some big issue?
    Rock star, caught wankin’
    “No animal cruelty” they’re likely to brag
    But later they’ll put a fish up some slag
    For godsakes, who’s taken all the tissues?
    Rock star, caught wankin’

    and to my personal shame as an Irishman

    Surely you’re used to it by now – Keating seems to be following a tradition of crusading Irish entertainers.

  • phil

    Julius- u have made a comment about fair trade being bad. But you cant seem to back it up. Fair trade is t he only way in which less developed nations can protect their local businesses untill they are competent enough to compete in the global market. So, in this way fair trade is reducing the ever increasing gap between the first and third world.