RM Issue #030731
Return to riots
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
For the last two years, anti- globalization activists have been generally well-behaved -- especially compared to the pre-9/11 period, when they embarked on an escalating rampage of destruction. Anti- trade riots in Seattle, Washington, D.C., Montreal, Prague, Quebec City, Gothenburg and Genoa resulted in the deaths of two protesters and as much as $100-million in property damage and security costs. But the destruction of the World Trade Center chastened the fashionably anarchist rock- throwers, at least tactically. As one anti-trade Web site cautioned in the fall of 2001, "because of the recent attacks in New York, we will resort to only peaceful protest so the corporate elite and their media puppets cannot accuse us of being terrorists."
But some trade-haters have apparently lost their patience with softball tactics. Monday morning in Montreal, police turned back protesters when they tried to force their way into a downtown hotel to disrupt a meeting of officials from about two dozen World Trade Organization nations. Clad in black tunics and masks, the rabble picked up their truncheons and shields, ignited their Molotov cocktails and smashed up storefronts along Ste-Catherine Street. Hurling rocks and billiard balls, two groups of rioters smashed windows in a Burger King and Gap store. A Canadian Forces recruiting office was trashed, too, apparently to symbolize the hooligans' mistrust of the military.
Jaggi Singh, who has emerged as the sort of self-appointed MC of Canadian anti-WTO riots, excused the violence with a familiar refrain. "If you want to talk about violence," he said, "you really should be talking about the WTO and its policies that cause dispossession, that reinforce poverty -- those are profoundly, profoundly violent things."
This is the same strained metaphor globaphobes have been mouthing since they trashed the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle. Indeed, it probably qualifies as the most popular debating trick of the No Logo generation: By applying the label of "violence" to economic policies they happen to disagree with, modern-day Marxists can justify pretty much any form of protest. Common sense, of course, not to mention Canadian criminal law, dictates otherwise.
But for the sake of argument, let's look beyond the globaphobes' specious apologism and examine their underlying claims. Do integrated trade policies really hurt developing countries?
John Helliwell, a University of British Columbia economics professor, won the Donner Foundation's prestigious book prize this year for his short but incisive analysis of this very question. Titled Globalization and Well-Being, his study convincingly demonstrates that not only do developing nations profit from free trade, there is less dislocation -- sorry, "violence" -- than might be expected. "Globalization seems as much hype as reality," he concludes. It is "a slow- moving process that ... has left nation-states and local communities with their basic capacities."
Even by the very non-economic measures of happiness the anti-globalists insist should matter more than bottom-lines and GDP -- health care, adequate nutrition, literacy, infant mortality and the like -- globalization is found to improve life in the Third World. Human rights also improve, because prospering new entrepreneurs and educated professionals won't let the state push them around.
Protesters may have given Montreal shopkeepers a big mess to clean up. But the tactics of the window-smashing anarchists on display yesterday will do little to attract public support. Especially since 9/11, such tactics alienate most ordinary observers. Given the bankruptcy of the globaphobes' underlying ideas, that qualifies as a silver lining.
© Copyright 2003 National Post