There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute

1 Jan

Yesterday, I pontificated on the legitimacy of some book awards and college accreditation–areas in which I have an abiding interest. However, this idea can be spread to any subject. But what if it’s something I only mildly care about?

I was convinced many years ago to buy fair trade coffee. I figured the exchange was worthwhile–if producers pay coffee farmers double the price per bushel (say $0.50 to $1 for a giant bag), it doesn’t make a great difference to the US customer, but it makes a huge difference in Costa Rica. They can afford to send their kids to school, they can build their houses up, and greatly improve their life. I lived on a mountain in India for three years making $300/month, and for the area, I lived as an upper middle class professional. So I’ve seen the difference a little extra change can mean in the developing world.

But as I said, I’m only mildly care about fair trade coffee. I watched a three-hour documentary on it. As you can see here, these are four different legitimate fair trade logos that producers can slap on their bags. I’ve seen a lot more. How much effort am I going to make as a coffee consumer to make sure that their fair trade certification is legitimate? Thirty seconds of a Google search? Two minutes? Most of the time, I’m simply going to take it as legitimate and feel virtuous about buying expensive coffee, and not double check the label.

Here in Arizona, building and service contractors have to register with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors and get a license number that they have to put on their advertising and trucks. This shows that they are accountable to the state if they screw up the job on your house. You can actually go to the AROC website and look them up by license number. However, is there any reason that I, as a disreputable contractor, couldn’t just do a search, find a contractor that sounds like me, and just paste their number on my truck? Or just put any number on there and bet that most customers won’t bother checking?

To give another example, I’ve sent both of my kids (and now just my daughter) to Tempe Montessori School. We love the education and their philosophy and it works really well with both of their ADHD types. However, do I really know the difference between AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) and the AMS (American Montessori Society) certification? I had to ask my wife (because she cares greatly about most things more than I) and she preferred AMI, because AMS makes “too many concessions” to American public school practice. So my wife did the research and I took her word on it. Many parents will take word of mouth over certification any day. It’s more consistent.

When we first came to Arizona, we sent our kids to Sholom Montessori, because we really loved the idea of a Jewish Montessori school–we had sent Asher to one when he was four years old and he did great. Turned out the school was a scam by the founders, and they used the money from that (and a synagogue they ran) to pay their bills and fix up their house. The head of the school was also the elementary school teacher, but after six months, she decided to stop teaching, leaving the class in the hands of her 12-year-old daughter. She got work visas for young women from Israel so she could pay them #*$& and give them the awful choice of “work for me or go home to Israel.” Six months after we pulled out of that school, and a message to the AZ Department of Education and the Jewish Tuition Organization, they were finally shut down.

I guess the point of all of this is caveat emptor–let the buyer beware. Because even with certification, anyone can put a sticker on their website and say they’re certified (as was the case with Sholom Montessori; the agency had never heard of them!) So I’m less impressed with accreditation that some people–but I could be wrong. Have you had more positive experiences with certification and those kinds of agencies? Or are you as cynical as I am? Let me know in the comments below!

3 Responses to “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute”

  1. Bon Repos Gites January 1, 2021 at 10:26 am #

    Yes, it is worth undertaking some due diligence at times! Happy New year!

  2. Msdedeng January 1, 2021 at 5:39 pm #

    Wow! awesome post.

  3. Silk Cords January 3, 2021 at 5:57 am #

    That phrase is exactly why I could never be bothered to watch “The Greatest Showman”. Talk about revisionist history… Nuff said there.

    Due Diligence (to get back on topic) is worth it if it’s something expensive. California has similar contractor licensing and testing. The state website will show you the company, it’s license number, phone number, web address, and any complaints filed against it. Same goes for realtors and a few other fields. We used that site as a start for investigating any contractors we hired, along with checking out their website and various sites like Yelp for reviews.

    The unlicensed contractors impersonating legit ones happens alot in CA also, which is why we always took a close look at the company website to see what trucks and uniforms might look like.

    On the other hand… Something like fair trade coffee I’m cynical enough to simply assume is a scam, much like the “green” sponges that were selling for 5x the cost of regular ones at the store a few years back. It’s only corporate america finding another way to screw it’s customers.

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