Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 1999/24 Kislev, 5760
The World Trade Organization's meeting in Seattle has become the Woodstock for America's
malcontents. A throng of complainers has descended upon the Coffee City, bearing varied grievances with a common theme: They
hate the march of time.
One is struck less by the vigor of the protests than the utter futility. It is difficult to discern the causal connection between
a college student's squatting on a street and the advancement of human dignity in China -- or the mechanism by which an assault
on a Starbucks can lead to collective-bargaining rights in Burkina Faso.
But the kids and the aging hippies forge on in full voice and furor. Most, it seems, are interested less in good causes than
ample air time. Yet exposure makes them ripe for mockery since the typical protest speech sounds like a Maoist version of “Kids
Say the Darndest Things.”
Although Pat Buchanan described the melee as “the birth pangs of a new movement,” the only thing birth pangy about it
was its infantilism. Washed-up radicals thundered about corporate greed but promoted the more avaricious institution of socialism.
Left-wing protesters railed against forced abortions in China while advocating subsidized abortion (that is, abortion through legal
bribes) worldwide. And union leaders declared that we should not cede our sovereignty even while demanding that the WTO
impose wage and tariff standards on other countries.
Many of these people act as if the world would be a nobler place if they were in charge, but a survey of the rubble tells us
better. Do we really want to submit to the leadership of people who spray “Barbie Kills” on toy-shop windows, trash “Planet
Hollywood” as if it were a torture chamber or boast membership to such outfits as Dyke Action and Raging Grannies?
The problem with Seattle's frequent-flier Jacobins is that they're determined to seize total control of small portions of our
lives. Environmentalists, for instance, want to make the planet safe for the post-human era. And European rednecks -- especially
the French -- opposed to genetic engineering, irradiated food and other innovations, want us to give up healthy produce so they
can create a Golden Age of Manure.
For the better part of three centuries, anti-trade protests have boasted two crucial features: nativism and naive
romanticism. Protectionists liken the introduction of “outside” influences to the invasion of a virus. Trade, they say, rewards people
who are not loyal to the motherland; it corrupts the “pure” national culture with the toxin of foreign habits.
(This is why so many
protectionists also believe in sealing the borders.)
China has become the chief bogey for Seattle's nativists. One gets the sense they believe Beijing would overrun the WTO
and within a short span require the world's population to use chopsticks and wear ugly green outfits.
This gets things exactly backward. Trade forces countries to pare habits and institutions that inhibit entrepreneurial
creativity. Taiwan and South Korea have stumbled toward democracy after securing a measure of economic freedom. Japan has
shed some of its insularity in response to global economic competition.
Countries cannot both hide and win. Those who retreat, lose big. And nations can't even get into the race unless they
protect innovation and reward success.
These entrance requirements help demolish the other protectionist trend: looking at the past through rose-colored
glasses. Environmentalists in particular seem to believe that economic growth stimulates pollution and nudges the entire planet
slowly toward ruin.
Although prosperity meant pollution a half-century ago, that's not true today. America becomes “cleaner” by the year
because we consider a pristine environment not merely an amenity, but a necessity. People now make fortunes by removing
nasty stuff from our water and air.
More importantly, economic expansion creates a level of wealth, comfort and health that we all consider desirable -- and
that our forbears found unimaginable. To put it in perspective, Bill Gates' net worth exceeds the value of every good and service
generated by the United States in 1900. The average life span in 1900 was 47.3 years, compared with 76.3 today. At the dawn of
the century, 98 percent of all U.S. households cleaned laundry with the help of washboards. You get the idea.
Bill Clinton's job-approval ratings continually testify to the fact that whether protesters like it or not, we're in the midst of a
second Guilded Age. The only downside is that good times invite goof-offs to repackage their laziness as hidden nobility. The fact
is, these protesters are not serious and have nothing particularly worthy to say. A young woman named Stephanie Derouin
unintentionally skewered the rabble rousers when she told The New York Times, “(I)f I didn't have a job, I'd probably be out there
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©1999, Creators Syndicate