Interviewing Lloyd Gruber is a picnic, a picnic on a par with the mad hatter’s tea party, only more energetic, and a little bit more rational. Lloyd is very happy that he is a political scientist, and he is very happy to be at the LSE, happy to have swopped Chicago for London.
“I fell in love with England and with the intellectual culture here; I fell in love with public policy and became a true believer in public policy training and what it could do and when I came here I looked around and we didn’t have a public policy school and I thought that was curious and along with some other people here, we created one.”
Dr. Lloyd Gruber was one of my first contacts at the LSE to experiment with online voting in his teaching. We made a deal that I would help him with the technology and in turn he’d let me sit in on his seminars, ostensibly to observe his teaching, but really to enjoy a free lesson in international development. What I remember from that is that he ruined fair trade coffee for me, or rather not the coffee itself but its idea, its being the perfect tonic for middle class guilt. I ask him about this again, and he explains:
“The problem is, countries that are able to fill out all the paperwork and have all the bureaucracy [that enables them to deal with the fair trade certification] tend to be the ones that are already well governed.” And that’s not even it! There is a long list of problems with the fair trade concept, and Lloyd explains some of them very patiently.
*Poof* there goes my simplistic understanding of ‘fair trade coffee equals happy coffee farmer working conditions equals guilt-free coffee consumption’. I howl. “But what coffee should I drink?” “I cannot tell you that.” Fat lot of good you are, Lloyd. I make a perfect impression of the despair emoji, but it does not move him.