Why Liberals Don't Like the WTO

by Bob Wilson

The WTO explains their purpose below:

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

The World Trade Organization came into being in 1995. One of the youngest of the international organizations, the WTO is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in the wake of the Second World War.

To organize and maintain a system of world commerce wherein producers can sell their products and consumers can consume what they want in a global economy seems to make a lot of sense. Except to those who have a myopic special interest that they perceive is threatened by such a concept.

To the WTO meeting in Seattle last month came the anarchists, vegetarians, Green Peace whack jobs, and liberal protectionists. These are people who supposedly oppose international trade, not because it costs local jobs, (that would be a conservative protectionist.) No, they protest the WTO because of altruistic reasons: like third world countries are enabled by a global trade economy to run sweatshops; therefore, restricting global trade saves the peasants from being victimized by evil capitalists and saves poor people from the horrors of competition and a free market. They are joined by corporate protectionists and local merchants who fear competition also, but in the name of "zoning" and "preserving downtown’s communitarian values", not its real estate values.

These remnants of socialism and other assorted "fellow travelers" gathered to engage in what George Will aptly termed "Seattle’s end-of-the-century version of the storming of the Winter Palace." They assembled in their Gap sweatshirts and Nike shoes and some even in their tie-died bandannas and scruffy beards. Soon, oddly enough, their protests of globalization and the evils of spreading capitalism took the form of looting Radio Shack stores and "liberating" satellite dishes.

The New Republic’s Gregg Easterbrook remembers when turmoil in the streets concerned war, civil rights, abortion. This year the issues are "the genetic modification of canola oil and WTO side letters on cross-border intellectual-property enforcement."

Now, it seems that instead of the left’s pushing for, and predicting the inevitable collapse of capitalism, and the transition to socialism, Esterbrook points out that the emphasis is on things like legislation to require food companies to disclose, on labels, genetically modified ingredients. This, even though, he points out, there is no scientific evidence that any genetically modified crop has done any harm to anyone anywhere.

As George Will said, "the left once thought of itself as internationalist (the song atop its hit parade was The Internationale) until Aug. 3, 1924. Then Germany’s largest party, the Social Democrats, at the time the world’s most important party of the left, said, Come to think about it, workers do have fatherlands, and we shall vote for war credits. Since then, semiautarky has been the left’s recurring temptation. Protectionism is imperative for the left’s agenda, which is ever-increasing government allocation of wealth and opportunity."

The facts which the anarchists and other left wing loonies refuse to acknowledge is that free trade actually accounts for the biggest gains in quality of life for the world’s poor people ever. In their opposition to free trade, the protesters oppose the most progressive force of the last two centuries.

Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago writes that in 1875 the British elite lived on average 17 years longer than the population as a whole. Today, the gap is one year. Life expectancy increased twice as much in the last century as during the previous 200,000 years, with the poor benefiting the most.

At the heart of the WTO issue lie some fundamental truths. Trade drives economic development, creates jobs, causes economic expansion, and improves the quality of life for everyone, and the biggest improvement comes to the poorest, which, with a job find hope and the possibility of prosperity.

Free trade threatens to deprive liberals, whose livelihood and belief system revolves around the maintenance of a power base comprised of poor people. As such, it is a threat to their existence. Giving the under-class the idea that some force other than a system of government handouts might be a more powerful, effective agent for improving their life is always opposed by the left for that reason alone.