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Friday, January 30, 2004

Anti-globalization has lost its voice while Outsourcing Roars? 

Tom Friedman writes that the Davos World Economic Forum was devoid of protesters' chaos this year for the first time in several years. This, he posits, is because developing countries (led by India and China) are beginning to grow quickly through economic integration and their own globalization in a way the anti-globalizers could never create through any alternative growth strategy.

Despite always sympathizing with the worries of the protesters, I feel like they are ultimately on the wrong side of this stuff: no matter how much the majority of the protesters decried the homogeneity of global capitalism or the assault on indigenous ways of life that seemed more dignified (in their poverty), it was never forgivable to promote policies that would deny countries the ability to secure a better life for their citizens through more and better jobs. Pieces of the anti-globalization agenda, such as debt forgiveness, concerns over the extension of intellectual property, protectionism in developed countries (see agribusiness) and concerns over the ability of poor countries to selectively protect emergent business sectors rather than throwing them to the wolves of global competition, these ideas were never misplaced. But too often, the movement for these important freedoms
(for which the fight need continue) got shunted into an anti-development rhetoric that was perversely paternalistic, not to mention at cross-purposes with their intention of constraining some of the power of developed economies in developing countries. As Nicolas Kristoff has noted in the Times, even "sweatshops" is a more complicated issue than the do-good multiculturalism of the anti-globalizers would allow. In this case, more "sweatshops" (or, if you prefer, a factory job attached to a definite wage) might be a good thing. Especially when compared with the typical life working to death while salvaging on a garbage heap.

I won't celebrate the silence of anti-globalizers. They have an important position and their presence has made a great deal of difference from the international institutions on down -- even if their theoretical position is at odds with the best chance for the global South. If anything, Friedman's point underscores how much of a difference it makes to global discourse when greater numbers of people share in the economic opportunity that the world's economy is able to generate.


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