This is not a new idea. The idea of maintaining prices so that the small retailer didn't get eaten alive by chain stores with higher buying power and national (and sometimes larger) networks of distribution.

This practice was one of the few that was excepted from the Sherman Antitrust Act. The amendment that made allowed these laws was repealed in 1975.

The fair trade that WTO protesters are advocating is not all that different. The idea is that small independent producers of goods shouldn't be exploited by middlemen who have a stranglehold on the market. It's ironic because most of the folks who oppose this idea have been hollering about unimpeded free trade which is exactly what fair trade policy would enable.

The coffee industry is a prime example of this dynamic in action. The cheaper coffee is the more you will sell but the cheaper you make coffee the less money you make. So, who is going to underwrite the cost of controls on the price of coffee? Not the consumer in the free trade at any cost paradigm and the reseller needs to keep huge margins because he isn't crucial to the transaction. Obviously the grower is going to bear the burden of fixed pricing. This sucks because in the end it means that folks who grow certain kinds of crops (the idea of cash crops are kinda fucked anyway) are going to become impoverished as a result.

To me this is way more pressing than whether the corner grocery stays open. It isn't really about artificially fighting competition any more. It has more to do with preventing exploitation.

Fair Trade, an expression used by certain persons who, professing to be free traders, would still tax goods imported from any country which refuses to accept the principles of free trade. Free traders consider this view as protectionist. The issue is now very prominent in England owing to the open stand of Joseph Chamberlain in favor of "fair trade," and his resignation from the Cabinet on account of that advocacy.

Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

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