Economics to go in a cup of joe

The power of your dollar to shape global society

That lonely dollar bill in your pocket may not seem very powerful most days, and you might not think your decision to drop an extra quarter or two on a coffee—or not—has the capacity to do anything special.

Strictly speaking, you would be right.

But multiply those quarters and dollars by 365, and multiply that by the thousands of other people making similar decisions and pretty soon you are talking serious money. The sum of these seemingly paltry consumer decisions is better known as the granddaddy of market drivers: Demand.

Demand is power, and your decision about where and how you spend your money—or not—even if the amounts seem modest, empowers you to have a say in the kind of world you wish to live in.

For small-scale farmers like those at the Las Lajas cooperative in Costa Rica who grow Warrior One coffee, for the local businesses that bring you the coffee, and for Lycoming students whose service learning trips are partially funded by the Warrior One program, your choice of wakeup cup each day—along with the same choices others are making—has the potential to change lives. A dollar spent elsewhere—or kept in your wallet to keep to your budget on track—will have different repercussions.

For Lycoming President Kent Trachte, who has written frequently in his scholarly work about how value is created and how it is distributed globally, the issue is more than just academic. "One of the attractive aspects of the Warrior One coffee program is bringing that question to campus with a fair value product. It allows students to think about something like the coffee they drink in a different way. Where did it come from? Who are the people that grow it and roast it? Now students can consider if they want to pay a bit more for a product because it represents principles with which they might agree. Obviously I don't want to impose my own views on anyone else, but as an educator I want students to be able to examine that issue, decide where they come down on it, and make decisions as consumers that reflect their values."

So the question is on the table: Your dollar, your power. How do you spend it, and why?