Free, Fair, Faux, Phun
NCP takes on the giant (the global economic system)
We all want to know what to do about a global economic system that seems unfair to millions of people—including us. And given the size and power of those who benefit from and defend this system, it often feels like we’re confronting a giant of Jack and the Beanstalk proportion who would have us too for dinner.
Free Trade is the dominant global economic model, by which governments agree not to hinder the flow of products and profit and not to seek unfair advantage, while giving up the right to restrict trade based on environmental or labor-rights considerations. This system is enforced by groups like the World Trade Organization, which are agencies with the power to bring charges against any member nation that doesn’t abide by established treaties, including overriding national priorities in favor of the economic interests of corporations or trading partners.
So it is clear that this system benefits corporations and investors, while the losers are equally obvious—workers and the planet. (Of course, not everyone plays by the rules—e.g., the US continues to heavily subsidize (welfare!) its already-wealthy cotton farmers, causing losses of millions of dollars to small-scale West African producers.) Free Trade essentially says the world is “open for business,” with every other consideration being secondary.
Not so fast, Free Trade
Fair Trade is often held up as the alternative to Free Trade. Here, conscientious consumers purchase products made by better-paid and treated Poor World workers. Currently, Fair Trade is a miniscule percentage of the US consumer economy (.05% of coffee sales, for instance). As pointed out by many analysts, this is noble but insufficient, at least if our goal is to create a fairer world. Which is not to say it shouldn’t be done, but that by itself it’s not enough.
Fair Trade — fair enough?
Better treatment and a guaranteed minimum wage is a step in the right direction, but does it go far enough? Here are some things to consider:
So both Free Trade and Fair Trade are a bit Faux—short of creating a genuinely equitable economic system. This leaves…
Phundamental changes. Here’s how NCP sees rebuilding the system, starting from the bottom up:
• People in the Rich World step back from the globalized consumer economy by reducing consumption, supporting local producers and refusing to invest in exploitative corporations, meanwhile educating themselves and others about the impacts of globalization on planet and people. This may include boycotts of egregious offenders (think Nestle in the 70’s, Gandhi’s homespun cotton, the Boston Tea Party!).
That’s our modest recipe for creating a more just global community. For the analysis of smarter people than us, see books by Piketty, Klein, Reichman and others on our Reading List . Here are our partners in other parts of the world who help us put these ideas into practice. Meet these communities for yourself on one of our Learning Tours. For local manifestations of our global vision, visit our Sustainable Living Centers in Virginia and Vermont.