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
"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. …