fair trade has gained popularity as evident by the increase in “fair trade
certified” labels that are popping up on many products at the grocery store.
This label has sparked debate regarding the efficiencies of two different
systems of trade—“free trade” and “fair trade.” Many people, myself included,
can recite some talking points in support or against the two systems, but when
it comes down to it we don’t have enough information about either system to
really make an educated statement. It seems to have become an issue that is
linked with partisanship. In other words, a precedent has been established that
conservatives support free trade while liberals support fair trade; as a
result, partisanship has taken the place of facts in determining whether or not
someone prefers free or fair trade.
is fair trade? Fairly traded products are attractive to consumers for a number
of reasons. The system on which it is based is supposed to be more beneficial
for farm workers and laborers in regards to safe working conditions and
appropriate wages. In addition, certified fair trade products encourage
environmental sustainability because the label indicates that producers are not
using synthetic pesticides that could have deleterious effects on wildlife and
soil health. Fair trade aims to alleviate poverty in developing countries
because farmers would receive higher payment for their commodity.
these reasons for buying fairly traded products are “feel good” reasons that
are easy to market because they are based on emotion. But from an economic
standpoint, is fair trade beneficial to the United States? Fair trade is designed
to protect producers from production costs exceeding the price of their
commodity by negotiating a price that takes into account the market as well as a
minimum price to pay for production. The producers in underdeveloped countries
are prioritized over buyers to ensure farmers receive a decent price for their
is free trade? Free trade relies on the open and competitive market to set the
price of a commodity. It discourages government intervention and instead relies
on the market, meaning supply and demand, to appropriately determine a fair
price for a commodity. Buyers and sellers should adequately respond to the
actions of the consumer to determine an appropriate price.
fair trade, even if there is a downturn in the market for a particular product
due to a lack in demand, buyers and sellers do not negotiate a price to
compensate for the downturn so that the seller can receive a higher price. When
free trade is truly free, it can be fair trade. Buyers and sellers are not at
odds with each other as fair trade portrays them to be. With more sellers of a product
and fewer buyers for that product, the price should decrease. On the other
hand, with fewer sellers and more buyers, the price should increase. So it
seems buyers are competing with other buyers and sellers are competing with
issues that fairly traded products aim to address such as the environment,
poverty, and unsafe laborer conditions are all worthy causes. However, if
buyers are going to have pay more for a product in order to abide by fair trade
rules, is that decision going to trickle down to consumers and force them to
pay more for a commodity simply because it has a label that says, “fair trade
certified”? When it affects the consumer’s pocketbook, I don’t know how willing
they will be to pay a higher price for something that has cheaper alternatives.
The central valley
of California is home to some of the most productive farmland in the world.
Agriculture generates $47 billion in sales each year for California. This billion-dollar
industry has grown in sophistication so that agriculture involves more than the
basics of planting a seed, watering it, and watching it grow until it is ready
to harvest. This sophistication is in the form of technological innovation.
Research and technology has allowed agricultural processes to increase efficiencies.
For example, we
see this technological innovation taking place in the almond industry. Almonds
grown in California supply the entire nation and comprise 80 percent of the
world’s reserve. However, almond farmers face a major obstacle in that almonds
require a tremendous amount of water. Technology has helped to combat the drought
by increasing the precision in how much water each almond tree receives.
Moisture sensors document activity in the soil and send the information to the
cloud. This information is transferred to the irrigation system in which it
will respond accordingly depending on the results. Water is then mixed with a
precise amount of fertilizer and is administered to multiple areas of the
tree’s circumference to promote more efficient water uptake. This method uses
less water due to its precision and thus has helped the industry respond to
agriculture is unique compared to the rest of the nation’s farming because of
the sheer number of crops our climate allows us to grow. Our Mediterranean
climate permits farmers to grow a multitude of commodities as compared to the
Midwest, which prospers in a select few crops such as wheat, corn, and
soybeans. These Midwestern crops are undoubtedly important for the nation, as a
lot of them go toward feed for cattle. But Californian commodities face a
unique set of challenges, as we specialize in what is known as specialty crops.
We hear this term spoken in common vernacular but its meaning can become lost.
As defined by the USDA for funding purposes, specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and dried
fruits. Only about three percent of cropland is utilized to grow
specialty crops, but because they mandate higher prices, they comprise a
quarter of the value of crops grown in the United States.
specialty crop farmers face interesting challenges since their commodities must
maintain freshness from the time they are harvested to the time they make it to
the supermarket. This can become difficult when California produce is being
shipped all the way across the country. For example, it is technology and research
that has helped to overcome these logistical challenges. It took research to
figure out how to package salad in bags that would still allow the lettuce to
breath. While this may not seem like technology in the conventional sense,
fresh-bagged salad was a major victory for the industry.
growers have a tremendous responsibility to supply the nation with its produce
and nuts, yet it only receives one-half of one percent of subsidies, with the
remaining going to grains. Midwestern farmers have somewhat of an advantage
over our California specialty crop growers in that they can gather together and
form a strong coalition to ensure their needs are heard. Because agriculture in
California is so diversified, it becomes more difficult to form strong
coalitions to lobby, since our different farmers have different needs. The
disparity in funding for research from the government that specialty crop
growers receive compared to growers of corn, wheat, and soybeans is baffling
since California farmers supply the nation with its fruits, vegetables, and
nuts. Technology in agriculture has
certainly progressed, with more and more growers recognizing the importance of
investing in research in order to improve their commodities and be competitive
in the market. But specialty crop growers alone cannot fund the research in
technological innovation. Luckily the USDA in recent years has begun to
allocate more subsidies to specialty crop growers, recognizing their important
role to the nation.
It’s been 15 years since
the whole world was shaken—and all of America was in mourning. Three thousand
families lost people they loved in the carnage that was the 9/11 terrorist
attacks. I was 5 years old when the Twin Towers came crashing down, and all I
remember is that no one knew what to do, how to feel, or who to blame. Very
soon after we found out that the culprits weren’t faulty flight plans, or
sleeping pilots, or whatever else we would have thought possible. It was a form
of terrorism that America wasn’t accustomed to yet.
We had all hoped that it was just some horrible accident. I remember
thinking that no one could have intentionally done it, but I was so terribly
wrong. It was a coordinated attack by an Islamic terrorist organization the
likes of which the world had never seen. Al Qaeda didn’t hold back after the
attack—videos were posted continuously celebrating their “achievement.” Killing
Americans simply wasn’t enough—the videos served a purpose. They were meant to
kick us when we were already down. The group was led by a man that we all know
too well nowadays, Osama bin Laden.
In the mainstream global news, al Qaeda seems to be a thing of the past.
The media likes to focus on easy headlines, and in the world of terrorism, ISIS
paves the way in easy headlines. The group has without a doubt become the face
of modern Islamic terrorism and is a threat to the world, but it has caused
America to turn a blind eye to what is arguably a greater danger.
America must look to protect our own homeland first and foremost, and
this is one of the essential reasons ISIS isn’t our most immediate threat.
“ISIS” itself stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, meaning the
leaders of the organization want to prioritize establishing the Caliphate in
the Middle East before expanding outward into the Western world. The Caliphate,
a Muslim territory ruled by a single Islamic leader, is the end goal of almost
all Islamic terrorist organizations, but some organizations want to do it
sooner rather than later. If reports of the death of ISIS leader Abu
Bakr al-Baghdadi are true, however, the organization may have been
temporarily weakened. This setback is only made more severe by the progress
made by U.S. and Iraqi forces in driving ISIS insurgents out of Iraq, the place
ISIS aims to conquer before spreading west.
ISIS has on numerous occasions threatened to attack America, yet there
has been no large-scale coordinated attack on U.S. soil by the organization.
ISIS has claimed credit for various smaller-scale attacks carried out by its sympathizers,
but in these instances there typically are no signs of actual coordination
between the group’s leaders and the perpetrators of the attacks. The point is,
ISIS has not prioritized attacking America. The same cannot be said for al
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor to bin Laden, has followed in bin
Laden’s footsteps when it comes to practicing patience. Bin Laden wanted al
Qaeda to wait to establish the Caliphate, because he knew it to be a task too
large to accomplish in a matter of years, even decades. This approach means
that al Qaeda isn’t concerned with beating ISIS to the end goal of a Caliphate
or even beating them for easy headlines. Al Qaeda has the patience to forego
its ambitions in the Middle East (for a time), and in the meantime, it has
targeted the United States and our allies on numerous occasions in large-scale,
Also, the war in Afghanistan has only intensified al Qaeda’s hatred for
America. Though ISIS has obtained significant amounts of money and resources
through its pillaging campaigns, it means nothing without proper structure and
leadership. ISIS has become notorious for stealing large sums of money, but
also spending it immediately to arm insurgents for small-scale attacks in the
Middle East. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, has been operating for a very long
time and has learned how to allocate its funds for maximum efficiency.
The other cause for alarm is that al Qaeda likes to operate
incrementally. It takes a lot of time planning a large attack that will have a
global impact, and then hatches the plan at the most opportune moment. Although
al Qaeda hasn’t lost its funding, structure, or leadership in recent years, it
still hasn’t launched another attack on the United States. That’s good news,
however, this could allude to another large-scale attack in the works, and
potentially one that could again shake the world the same way 9/11 did. While
the media is preoccupied with focusing on what ISIS inspired Islamists are
doing in the European Union, al Qaeda is likely plotting against the United
States once again.
California’shistoric drought,let’slook at the drought’seffects.
California, whichis America’s largeststateeconomy, has traditionally produced about one-quarter of the nation's food. What happens when such a crucialstatebeginstoloseitspremier
economicsector?Whenfood productioniscurtailed, other sectorstakesignificanthitsaswell.Manufacturersareno longerbeingcommissionedto make asmuchfarmorharvestingequipment,sotheyhavetolayoffemployees.Companies that packagethefreshlyharvestedproducearen’tseeingallthebusiness
they traditionally had, sotheyhaveto downsizetoo.Allthislostproductionandlost
employmentdepresseseconomicgrowth.Furthermore, with lessproduce
comingoutoftheValley,thereislessforconsumersto buy,meaningthereisless moneycomingbacktoourlocal andstateeconomies,further crippling ourabilitytoproducemorefoodandgoods.
Because thedemandforCaliforniafoodremainshighbutthesupplyisfalling,pricesare risingforlocallygrownandharvested
produce.Oncepricesreachacertainthreshold,demand for Californiaproduce will fallaspeopleturnto cheaperalternatives.
ManypeopleoutsideCaliforniamaynotpersonallybeaffectedbytheproblem—switchingto importedproducemaynotstrikethem asamajorproblem,even ifit’snot asgood as California-grownfood.Butforthe
farm workersandfieldhandshere,itmeanstheabilityto makeendsmeet andtofeedtheirfamilies.
abouthow crucial migrantsarefortheagriculturesector,
supportanti-water legislation that putstheseverysamemigrants
out of work.Shantytowns
have sprungupin the SanJoaquinValleyfullofmigrantfamilies whohavelosttheirjobs in agriculture,asmany California farmersdon’thave enoughwaterto keep alltheir landinproduction.
For many people outside California, the difference is simply the number on the price tag. For the families of California's Central Valley, it's much more.