The ironies of anti-globilization protesters
2/1/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
"If you skinny little white-bread college kids, with your 'coalitions' for this and your 'actions' against that, think you're going to come into our town and mess things up again just for kicks -- right when we were getting it cleaned up, too! -- I think you're going to be in for a rude awakening. We're feeling a little cranky, and are in no mood for your shenanigans right now."
This free advice to "anti-globalization" protestors comes from Jim Knipfel, a columnist for the ever-scrappy New York Press. This week, the World Economic Forum arrived in New York City. And like a shark leading pilot fish to food, it brought a host of young men and women with open-toed shoes and closed minds.
What is the World Economic Forum? Oh, just one of these big get-togethers for international capitalists, politicians and assorted muckety-muck economists and journalists. In other words, it's precisely the kind of group the anti-globalization left holds responsible for all the evils of the world.
By all accounts, Mr. Knipfel is speaking for the vast majority of post-Sept. 11 New Yorkers who have little patience for a bunch of kids who typically confuse razing a McDonalds with high-minded political debate. My hope -- nay, my prayer -- is that he proves to be speaking for more people than just New Yorkers.
"In America," observed Oscar Wilde, "the young are always ready to give those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience." Well, now thanks to globalization, sharing ignorance is a hallmark of the worldwide youth culture.
This points to just one of the ironies behind the anti-globalization movement: It's just as "global" as Coca-Cola. All of these kids deploring the increasingly interconnected nature of the world economy use cell phones, pagers, e-mail, Web sites, etc. to coordinate their planet-wide activities, which they fly to from all corners of the world.
The second irony, of course, is that these kids denounce the West and cultural imperialism when, for the most part, they are creatures of Western culture and want to spread their own version of it all over the globe. The quickest way to spot an anti-globalization hypocrite is to ask him what he (yeah, yeah, or she) thinks of Karl Marx. If the response is even remotely favorable, let alone gushing with declarations about how "misunderstood" Marxism is, you've got 'em nailed.
You see, Marxism is as much a product of Western culture as Adam Smith or "Friends." Karl, after all, was a German who did most of his work in London and believed that communism could only stem from an advanced, industrialized economy. He was hardly a Third World liberationist worried about the plight of denizens of the Amazon basin.
I bring up Marx not out of right-wing nostalgia for a more familiar enemy, but because these kids are essentially Marxists with bad hygiene. Their solutions invariably call for old-fashioned command economy solutions to the problems of poverty, disease and illiteracy.
That raises the third, and saddest, irony. These kids think they are the future when, in fact, they're stuck in the past. Their solutions -- stopping sweatshops, stopping technological advancements in agriculture, stopping the spread of the free market -- are the solutions of the reactionary.
I have a soft spot for reactionaries, I must admit, but these guys want to keep "indigenous cultures" frozen in poverty because they're exotic. They want to ban child labor, even in agrarian societies too poor to afford schools and where kids are still an economic asset for families.
They want to stop biotech crops because it scares them, even though more efficient food production will save not only lives but will prevent the clear-cutting of more forests (the more efficient the food, the less crop land you need).
They want to ban "sweatshops" even though low-wage factories are the traditional route for rapid economic growth (just ask the Japanese or Koreans).
Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo rightly complained in 1999 that anti-globalization forces were trying "to save the people of developing countries from development." He was right to be angry. I know "sophisticated" people don't say this, but economic advancement is the single greatest remedy for what ails the planet. Rich countries are healthier, environmentally cleaner, safer and more respectful of human rights.
Wealth even breeds democracy. As George Mason University political scientist Francis Fukuyama writes, "There is not a single historical instance of a democratic country reverting to authoritarianism" once a society has achieved a per capita purchasing power of $6,000 (in 1992 dollars). "Spain, Portugal, Greece, Taiwan and South Korea," writes Fukuyama, "all made their transitions to democracy at or near this magical figure."
I'm pretty sure all those countries have thriving anti-globalization movements, too.