Boy, it’s tough being a street protester these days. You
make up a few placards denouncing free-trade agreements, show up at a big
summit meeting, maybe say a bad word or two about politicians, and Thomas
Friedman all but calls you a gangster on the Op-Ed Page of The New York Times. Well, maybe not a gangster, but a member of the
“anti-globalization gang,” which, at the very least, makes you a gang member.
Maybe that’s not so bad an appellation after all. What’s the
point of being in a gang if not to fight against … the other gang, that being
the “pro-globalization gang” (the Sharks, perhaps?). It is unlikely, however,
that the pro-globalists will ever be described with such contempt. For,
according to the keepers of globalist dogma, the pro-globalists-the Sharks-wish
only to spread prosperity throughout the world, to bring jobs to the jobless,
wages to the poverty-stricken and laptops to the illiterate.
Like Mr. Friedman, I didn’t go to Quebec City for the Summit
of the Americas; unlike Mr. Friedman, I didn’t go to Africa instead so I could
talk with great authority about the benefits of free trade in that impoverished
continent. No, I was too busy that weekend running errands and shuttling
children in my middle-aged Honda or my nearly new Toyota-I am, you see, not
entirely adverse to the pleasures of global capitalism, although, thanks to the
superb work of my friend Phil Mushnick of the Post , no Nike swoosh will ever stain my footwear.
Removed though I was from recent events abroad, I was not
surprised to learn, from The Wall Street Journal , that television
coverage of the summit gave undue attention to the protesters (some of them
admittedly repellent, clueless and even dangerous) and, from Mr. Friedman, that
Africans want American jobs. Who doesn’t? Why, even Americans want American
jobs, but as Americans are very expensive and make all kinds of retro demands
(paid vacations, medical benefits, a smidgen of dignity)-well, we can have none
of that in the great global marketplace, now can we?
Mr. Friedman has divided the anti-globalist gang into two
factions: the well-intentioned but ill-informed, and the well-informed but
ill-intentioned. I called John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine , author of The
Selling of ‘Free Trade ‘ and charter member of the anti-globalist gang, to
see which faction he belongs to. “Friedman would probably put me in a category
all by myself: ill-informed and
ill-intentioned,” he said with a laugh.
Mr. MacArthur has had the audacity to question not just Mr.
Friedman, but the globalist orthodoxy that he polices with such enthusiasm. In
his book, Mr. MacArthur shows a side of globalism that members of the other
gang either ignore or explain away: He demonstrated, through the lives of
actual American workers whose jobs were moved from Long Island City to Mexico,
precisely how globalism is knocking out several rungs on the great American
economic ladder. This kind of reporting breaks the establishment’s rules: When
writing of globalization, one is expected either to cite generalities or to
chronicle the lives of Third World workers delighted with their daily wage of
39 cents or so. One is not to record the devastation in working-class
communities like Long Island City. That’s not fair play, you see.
I asked Mr. MacArthur why critics like himself and the
protesters in Quebec inspire such contempt among establishment, pro-globalism
commentators. “Most free traders in the press call themselves ‘social
liberals,’” he said. “And they get angry because their consciences are getting
pricked, because they feel accused of hypocrisy. It hits them where they live.”
Mr. MacArthur believes
that free trade is to the early 21st-century what busing was to the 1970′s.
“Back then, every liberal would say, ‘I’m for busing,’ but none of them had
kids in public schools,” he said. “They weren’t affected by it, and they knew
nobody who was. In the same way, they say they’re for free trade because, they
say, it helps poor people in other countries. But they don’t know anybody here
who’s affected by free trade. They don’t know anybody who’s getting screwed.
And it’s the working class that’s losing jobs or working longer hours to make
up for lower wages.”
Mr. MacArthur is an unabashed protectionist, but one needn’t
be-one might even drive a Toyota with a clear conscience-to question the
exploitation and economic injustices carried out in the name of globalism, to
point out that globalism, in its rawest form, is not about spreading wealth,
but driving down wages.
Establishment commentators are constantly amazed to find
that labor unions would fight to keep good-paying jobs in America. Presumably,
the Op-Ed elites would like the unions to act like other members of the
commentating class and simply go along with the program.
It’s good for business, after all.