RE: WTO the rampage! (fwd)

Dan Kohn (
Tue, 7 Dec 1999 00:29:08 -0800

In general, I agree with Chris Olds's comment that the Seattle police did
not do too bad a job. Given that people are complaining about both their
aggressiveness and their leniency, there's a decent argument that they did
not under- or over-react.

That said, I disagree with all of Chris's other points. If you want to
alleviate poverty and end child labor in the developing world, support free
trade and the WTO. If you want to improve the environment here and abroad,
support free trade and the WTO. ("Rich" people care about the environment
while poor people care about feeding their children. Free trade and
economic development is the only way anyone knows to make poor people rich,
as the Japanese, South Koreans, and Chileans can attest.) If you care about
good jobs at good wages, support free trade and the WTO, since protectionism
leads to neither (as demonstrated by India in the 1980's and much of Africa
today). By contrast, if you care about preserving obsolete rust-belt jobs
(the ones that tend to be unionized) at the expense of consumers everywhere
and many good new jobs that could be created, oppose the WTO and join the

Does this viewpoint seem a little radical? It shouldn't. Ask 99 out of 100
economists (people who actually take the time to study and understand these
issues), and they will explain that it is all common sense. In fact, there
is no subject that famously argumentative economists agree on more than the
benefits of free trade (although they tend to call it Ricardian comparative
advantage, as economics is not called the dismal science for nothing).

What I simply cannot understand is why our political and business leaders
have not been able to make these points in a way that regular people
understand. Rather than meeting the protesters half way, we should be
explaining that although their hearts are in the right place, there policy
proscriptions are nearly exactly wrong.

Before we have a big flamewar on this list, I'd request that interested
parties read a couple of articles first:

In Praise of Cheap Labor by Paul Krugman is one of the best things he's ever

Critics take it as a given that anyone with a good word for [globalization]
is naive or corrupt and, in either case, a de facto agent of global capital
in its oppression of workers here and abroad. But matters are not that
simple, and the moral lines are not that clear. In fact, let me make a
counter-accusation: The lofty moral tone of the opponents of globalization
is possible only because they have chosen not to think their position
through. While fat-cat capitalists might benefit from globalization, the
biggest beneficiaries are, yes, Third World workers.

Enemies of the WTO is also excellent:

The raw fact is that every successful example of economic development this
past century -- every case of a poor nation that worked its way up to a more
or less decent, or at least dramatically better, standard of living -- has
taken place via globalization; that is, by producing for the world market
rather than trying for self-sufficiency. Many of the workers who do that
production for the global market are very badly paid by First World
standards. But to claim that they have been impoverished by globalization,
you have to carefully ignore comparisons across time and space -- namely,
you have to forget that those workers were even poorer before the new
exporting jobs became available and ignore the fact that those who do not
have access to the global market are far worse off than those who do.

Finally, here is an Economist editorial:

Concerns about trade and globalisation are real, and can be legitimate: they
deserve to be addressed. So here’s an idea: let governments start addressing
them. Let them explain that trade is first and foremost a matter of
freedom—that if a government forbids its citizens to buy goods from another
country it has infringed their liberty. Let them explain that trade makes
people better off, especially the poorest people in the poorest countries.
Let them explain that trade improves the environment, because it raises
incomes, and the richer people are, the more willing they are to devote
resources to cleaning up their living space. Let them explain that the WTO
is not a global government, but merely a place where governments make
agreements, and then subject themselves to arbitration in the event of a

- dan

P.S. As Milton Friedman said on The Lehrer Newshour, "I'll give a $100 for
any can of tuna purchased from a US supermarket that is NOT dolphin-safe."
(As he didn't add, one can limit per respondent.) This gets to one of the
compromise areas that I see. Although the WTO prohibits restraint of trade
for things that environmentalists and others see as critical, I do not
believe it restricts labeling. Thus, in the US, it becomes extremely
unlikely to sell non-dolphin-safe tuna because consumers expect to see the
dolphin-safe label. Similarly, Gap or Nike could label their products "not
sewn by a 9 year-old-girl". And, in the extreme, genetically modified foods
could be labeled, allowing consumers (and their supermarket chains) to
decide whether cheaper, fresher products that use less pesticides are worth
(what is IMHO) a fictional health risk, analogous to fluoridation of water.

Daniel Kohn <>
tel:+1-425-519-7968  fax:+1-425-602-6223

-----Original Message----- From: [] Sent: Friday, 1999-12-03 13:10 To: Subject: Re: WTO the rampage! (fwd)

Interesting point of view. I wonder if the things he's saying about the WTO are accurate. If they are, then it surely deserves opposition.

<>       Kragen Sitaker     <>
The Internet stock bubble didn't burst on 1999-11-08.  Hurrah!

---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Fri, 3 Dec 1999 01:36:58 -0800 From: Chris Olds <> To: Karee Swift <>, Subject: Re: WTO the rampage!

> I still wonder, political protest over what?

I had expected more clue from FoRK (overall, not to pick on anybody). Regardless of one's political persuasion (and I know we run the gamut), I think that the WTO would be a no-brainier to oppose. This is an unelected, secretive body that has been give the power to override laws passed by the legitimate government of *any* country, including <insert favorite WTO member nation here>. The unions are protesting the WTO position that goods made with child or slave labor may not be discriminated against. The environmentalists are protesting the WTO position that promotes rainforest destruction. They are working together because they see that the only beneficiaries of the current WTO process are large corporations (Boeing is a host company, I'm not sure about MS). If, as has been proposed, corporations are given the power to challenge laws as a restraint to trade, then Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, and Microsoft (to name three large Washington multi/transnational companies) will be a giant step closer to wielding the same power as nations. Now, I have friends (whom I trust) that work for each of these companies, but I don't want them to have that kind of power.

The WTO protest is a broadly based movement that has the potential (IMNSHO) to unify the remaining forces in favor if social liberalism in this country. To use European terminology, the greens and the unions may have found each other, and found out that they have a *lot* in common.

As far as the cops go, after listening to the shoutcast of their comms I think that they are doing an acceptable job in a tough situation. The biggest blunder I can see is that they underestimated the need for visibility early on, and kept the King Co. Sheriff's forces off the street on Monday. In typical Seattle style, the Times is reporting that Seattle residents think that protesting is fine, but they are upset about the mess being made downtown. The Mayor apologized tonight to the people who were gassed. There have been excesses (tear gas on Broadway, when I-5 was the eastern edge of the curfew zone), and I'm sure there will be a long round of meetings about it (Seattle _loves_ meetings). So far, I have yet to hear of any serious injuries, and given the number of protesters I think the number of arrests is small (1%? 2%?). I have read multiple reports of protesters keeping vandals from breaking windows, and of people showing up to scrub graffiti off walls. This is not an unthinking, uncaring mob. It is a very large number of thoughtful people practicing non-violent resistance (and yes, breaking the law) being discredited by a small number of people taking the opportunity to practice violent criminal behavior.

This is not a simple protest by the wandering unwashed. People of conviction came to Seattle to try to claim a voice in a process that threatens to transfer more power from elected governments to transnational corporations and bureaucrats. If the analysis forwarded by Balachander Krishnamurthy is correct, the WTO meeting will prove to be a non-event. I'm thinking that this may be the best we can hope for.

The political protest in Seattle is real, and there are important issues for both the right and the left. Conservatives, both right and left (and as distinct from the radical right) should be supporting the goals of the protesters, even if they deplore their methods. As for the vandals, they should be treated as the criminals they are. As for the police, if they exceed the boundaries set by the law and their superiors, they should be punished as well (the hearings will take years). Seattle is an interesting choice for such a controversial meeting; there are not many (any?) other cities in the US that have the same combination of a strong environmental culture and an equally strong pro-labor culture. Strikes still mean something in Seattle, and recycling is a reflex. The city is facing up the fact that it needs to account for an endangered species (Salmon) in everything from its power generating facilities to its water supply to the way it deals with street runoff (of which there is a lot - rain happens). Trade is very important to Seattle, but so are the environment and social justice. People there respect work, both for production and for the benefit of society.

Ask yourself what the outcome would be if tens of thousands (10K? 20K? 30K? 50K? more?) of protesters were on the streets of your city. How many severe injuries would you expect? How many deaths? (50K people implies a measurable risk of someone dropping dead without provocation!).

'nuff said.


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