A photo taken by my cousin Hugh McElroy at a trendy leftwing-branded DC coffee shop.
The error has been there for at least the last couple of years. It reminds me of something that has always puzzled me – why are so many libertarians opposed to fair trade coffee?
It would seem to me that fair trade coffee is fairly hard to argue with on the principles of consumer sovereignty (i.e. the claim that consumers know their own interests best, and are able to realize them through the market mechanism). If consumers want to pay a premium for coffee that has been produced ‘fairly,’ then this should be no more troubling for libertarians than consumers wanting to pay a premium for e.g. luxury chocolate (which often is made from the same basic material as very-good-but-not-horrendously-expensive chocolate), and arguably less troubling. Perhaps libertarians can argue that fair trade coffee is a special case – and that consumers aren’t able to monitor the production of the coffee to ensure that standards are kept; that fair trade coffee has perverse consequences and so on. All this is certainly plausible – but the same problems of monitoring and possible perverse consequences apply to all sorts of government functions that libertarians are keen to have put out to private actors. If market mechanisms are poorly suited to promoting public welfare in situations where the profit motive is mixed up with the desire to do good, then many libertarian schemes for reform are in very big trouble. All in all, the left wing market skeptical case against fair trade a la (for example) Dani Rodrik seems a lot more plausible than the libertarian one (perhaps one can also argue that lefties who buy fair trade coffee ought to be plausibly more open to market mechanisms across a variety of other areas, by the same logic – but I’ll leave that for you all to discuss and dispute in comments).