Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Second Opinion
Anti-globalism: a little shrill

By Cliff Slater

Last week, as we prepared for the Asian Development Bank to convene here in Hawai'i, there were worldwide May Day "protests against globalization, capitalism and political corruption" by "an alliance of anarchists, Trotskyists, green groups, students and schoolchildren."

They protested that "the rules allow multinational corporations to plunder resources, devastate ecosystems and exploit disempowered workers." They charged that "our economic system creates this poverty and is destroying our bio-sphere."

Since these remarks are a trifle shrill, a little perspective might be in order.

First, in Seattle, many of the nations that were supposedly threatened objected to such protests. They understood what the protesters did not: that liberalizing their economies by adopting transparent financial reporting and establishing a respected legal system with real property rights spurs globalizing, which, in turn, generates economic growth.

They know that free economies correlate strongly with growing economies. How else explain the fact that in 1957, Ghana and South Korea had the same per capita GDP but today South Korea's is 20 times larger and is now sending aid to Ghana? It is South Korea's economic freedom that is now different.

And growing economies benefit everyone down to the poorest of the poor. The latest World Bank study shows that income for the poor rises one-for-one with overall growth. When the British switched to free trade in the mid-1800s, "the big gainers from this leading-country liberalization were British laborers and the rest of the world, while the clear losers were British landlords, the world's richest group."

Let's face some harsh realities of trade-offs in this life:

Yes, there are many people in the developing countries existing on $2 a day, but that is far better than the $1 a day they used to earn—and would again if the protesters had their way.

Yes, some very young children may be producing your clothing. But to prohibit them from doing so would send these children back to agriculture "where they work the most and attend school the least." Very young children work in all cultures until general affluence allows them to do otherwise.

The good news is that the number of young children working in manufacturing is declining everywhere and every year.

And, yes, growing economies will be less concerned about their environments initially—as we did not so long ago. You cannot ask hungry people to be more concerned about their environment than about eating.

As it did in the United States, concern about the environment will come with greater affluence. Greater affluence will come from freeing their economies. It is no surprise that low scores on the environmental sustainability index strongly correlate with a country's score on the economic freedom index. At the bottom of both are the least economically free.

In any case, as a Harvard study demonstrated last week, even though these protesters are opposing governments' policies, "globalization in the past has been driven mostly by forces unrelated to (any government) policy such as productivity improvements, rising potential gains from specialization and transport revolutions."

Try rolling those back.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater