Amid Tear Gas, All Globalization's Foes Emerge ; Free Trade Is Popular, but Critics in Seattle Range from Idealists to Bitter Turf Defenders

Article excerpt

If nothing else, massive demonstrations at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle have unexpectedly sparked widespread debate about one of the most powerful trends of the late 20th century: economic globalization.

To boosters, free trade and tighter business ties are obviously good things. The benefits of years of globalization are now clearly visible in communities across the world, they say.

The US has been a prime beneficiary, with globalization meaning everything from cash in the pocket for Kansas farmers to money for a minor-league hockey team in Jackson, Miss.

To its diverse alliance of critics, it is something far more sinister. They see "globalization" as a code word for destruction - of the environment, of working class wages, of native cultures. Their show of force in recent days is one hint that world leaders may have to pay more attention to a trend some have labeled "globalphobia."

"What we're seeing on the streets of Seattle is an excellent example of globalphobia," says Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It's a collection ... of many groups of people, some of whom are intensely idealistic, others who just want to defend a position they regard as besieged, and others who are just very confused."

This message of protest is not one that the world's political and business elite should reject out of hand. That was President Clinton's message, in any case.

The secrecy of WTO rulings only creates fear and misunderstanding of the whole trend of world economic integration, Mr. Clinton told conference attendees. The WTO needs to take account of worker rights everywhere, he said. But Clinton also offered an endorsement, saying "this is a stronger, more prosperous world because we have worked to expand the frontiers of cooperation."

Many state and community leaders around the United States now agree with this view. Why anyone would be opposed to globalization is a mystery to Kansas state Rep. Jim Garner, who flew into Seattle as part of the Democratic Leadership Council. He says Kansas will benefit from increased trade for its two main industries: agriculture and aircraft production.

For example, once China joins the WTO, tariffs on agricultural products will drop from 40 percent to 14 percent. "The family farmer is really hurting out there, and opening up new markets like China will have a major impact on Kansas," says Mr. Garner.

World prosperity, he reasons, will benefit Boeing, which employs 5 percent of the workforce in the Wichita area. …