The circus in Seattle should go down in history, or should I say in Social Studies, not as a resurgence of a vibrant mass movement, but as an emblem of a fake society.
A recent gem of a best seller entitled “Faking It” advanced the thesis that ours is a society whose every facet is permeated with phony sentimentality, and with the elevation in every sphere of “feeling, image and spontaneity,” over “reason, reality and restraint.” The fraud and the poseur have the run of our institutions and cultural products.
To this blight belong the protesters at the aborted WTO convention in Seattle. Not one among these environmentalists, union groups, anarchists and opponents of trade, spoke for “the poorest of the poor;” the undeveloped nations. Equally fraudulent were the media pundits, the sagging 1960s academics and other obtuse folk, who compared the mission of the WTO-protest with the causes of the 1960s.
Unclear is how smashing Starbucks for the sin of creating jobs in underdeveloped countries compares, as an act of moral suasion, to picketing Dow Corning for its manufacture of napalm. But a fake society seldom rails against real injustice. Instead it inveighs against sexy, amorphous targets like “corporate globalization,” or “patriarchal oppression.”
I spent most of my life in Africa where I saw dignity, pride and subsistence obtained through labor. In deference to the many Africans who knew not the luxury of labor unions and welfare, but who would have balked at the efforts of ersatz humanitarians to prevent them from placing food on the table, let me say this: Never before have I seen such onanists as the well-fed dilettantes who flocked to Seattle. Their protest arises in the context of the culture of entitlement—their cant utterly divorced from real rights and freedoms.
There are plenty good reasons to reject the organization known as the WTO. In the WTO we have a bureaucracy that doesn’t favor the classical ideal of free trade devoid of central management. Had the WTO not incorporated the legal mechanisms for regulating the world economy rather than freeing its markets, the Clinton administration would never have supported its creation. So far, WTO-directed practices consist in each country pushing for the next nation to abandon “trade distorting domestic support programs,” while insisting on its right to keep subsidies and tariffs alive in its own. That’s not free trade, but it bears a remarkable—if ironic—resemblance to the protesters’ version of a planned economy. The two solitudes: the WTO suits and the protesting bandanas may be ideologically closer than the latter would like!
If the circus in Seattle is a harbinger of things to come, the WTO in time will absorb every self-anointed NGO, labour organization and other forms of deficiency. Soon it will come to resemble the UN, which no protester decries, because its illiberal machinations are harnessed in the service of a politically correct agenda.
What whooshed past the protesters was well within Kofi Annan’s grasp. Secretary General of the UN managed to articulate the need for freer trade. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Annan condemned the rich nation practice of imposing high tariffs on goods imported from developing countries, and the use of quotas and antidumping penalties to curb the selling of products bellow market prices so as to keep Third World imports out of First World markets.
Unfettered trade is the antidote to the welfarism of foreign aid; it will enable developing nations to compete with western nations. When Clinton called for sanctions on developing countries that don’t adhere to “labor standards,” he let posturing against corporations, and pandering to armchair “rebels” take the place of guarding people’s freedom to gain advantage through the use of the only resource they have, their labor.
©1999 By Ilana Mercer
A version of this column appeared in The Calgary Herald