The Struggle for Reform In Globalization’s Back Office

A World Without Walls: Freedom, Development, Free Trade and Global Governance , by Mike Moore. Cambridge University Press, 302 pages, $28.

I was filing a story from the street, blocked in by peaceful protesters, when the pepper spray hit. Sure, the trade ministers standing near me were frustrated and befuddled, but did that warrant the use of chemical agents? These protesters had struck a nerve.

In November 1999, tens of thousands of people ranging from Teamsters to Earth Firsters used human barricades and marches to delay the opening session of the World Trade Organization’s planned ministerial summit in the coffee capital, Seattle. This unlikely coalition of steel workers, environmentalists, performance artists and self-proclaimed anarchists had a muddled and diverse agenda, but the protest raised awareness about the issues surrounding international trade and sparked a worldwide protest against what-for lack of better term-has become known as “globalization.”

The Seattle protesters could not boast of having wrecked the summit. True, it ended without agreement on a new round of negotiations-the trade officials’ frustration persisted until they all went home. But this had nothing to do with the protesters: In his new book, A World Without Walls , former W.T.O. director-general Mike Moore candidly acknowledges, “We didn’t need their help to fail … we did it on our own.”

For Mr. Moore, who retired as director-general last year, Seattle was a “wake-up call.” The former prime minister of New Zealand is at his best when he describes the bureaucratic mountains that had to be moved (he eventually moved some of them) to begin reform of the W.T.O. Along the way, he’s both self-congratulatory and self-deprecating, successfully weaving in humor to spice up what might otherwise be tedious accounts of office politics.

That’s the better half of the book. A World Without Walls is not completely formed: It feels as though its publication was rushed, which is unfortunate. The book feels hastily stuffed with the studies and observations of others, when Mr. Moore’s own insights and experience would have served as well.

At the outset, he shows-sadly-that he’s a better politician than he is an economist. He trumpets theories of economic development that are well worth discussing, but are hardly panaceas. His praise for Hernando de Soto’s ideas about how extended property rights can open millions of people to capital and the markets ignores the reductionist quality of Mr. de Soto’s argument, the happy myth that property rights can work miracles. Mr. Moore’s own arguments (like Mr. de Soto, he favors a reduction in red tape to open markets) are presented in a more sophisticated manner and with more immediate practical application. At the end of his book, Mr. Moore recites a litany of problems facing rich nations, poor nations and the various development agencies, but he doesn’t tie these pressing issues back to free trade and the W.T.O.

It’s in the middle of A World Without Walls , after the theory and before the Cassandra act, that Mr. Moore shines. Here he tells the story of how he learned from Seattle and went on-despite the clamor of naysayers who thought Seattle marked the end of the W.T.O.-to lead the successful launch of a new round of “development” negotiations in Doha in 2001.

An optimist and a firm believer in the international organizations he has worked for and with, Mr. Moore argues that if free trade were to operate at full potential, countries would develop more quickly, societies would demand greater freedoms, and dictators, tyrants and terrorists-the usual list of bad guys-would lose their hold on the disenfranchised.

Although he expresses unswerving support for institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations, Mr. Moore does not believe that “global governance” means the creation of “global government.” Instead, he argues for a democratic caucus in international organizations to ensure that liberal democratic ideas prevail over recalcitrance and self-interest. He agrees with critics of globalization who insist that rich countries sometimes operate under a double standard (consider the recent steel tariffs and agricultural subsidies imposed by the Bush administration).

Mr. Moore’s idealism seems more in tune with the anti-globalization movement than either he or some of the more vocal activists might imagine. He proclaims that to disregard the concerns of the demonstrators “is short-sighted, dangerous, and irresponsible.” But he does just that, intermittently, all the way through his book.

Early on, he notes that critics “assail the World Bank, accusing it of causing world poverty. Which is like accusing the Red Cross Society of causing world wars.” Several chapters later, he notes how, in fact, parts of the developing world are poorer than they were 30 years ago-in part because of development policies of the World Bank, which the organization itself acknowledged in a report released last year.

Mr. Moore cites a report by the United Nations Development Program, which states that in sub-Saharan Africa, per capita income was around one-ninth of that in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in 1960 and had deteriorated to around one-eighteenth by 1998. Mr. Moore also cites a Heritage Foundation study showing that 37 of the less developed countries receiving money from the World Bank are no better off than they were before they received aid, and 20 were actually worse off. Perhaps the criticisms lobbed at the world organizations are not as ludicrous as Mr. Moore sometimes pretends. Indeed, he acknowledges that many N.G.O.’s have valid complaints that deserve to reach the ears of officials at the World Bank, I.M.F. and W.T.O.

At a time when global institutions such as these seem both vitally important and uniquely threatened, Mr. Moore advocates greater education about their decisions and their interaction with civil society. A World Without Walls , especially when it’s focused on the specifics of how the W.T.O. should operate-and how it actually does operate-is an admirable beginning.

Heather Bourbeau is the associate editor at Foreign Affairs . She covered the Seattle W.T.O. ministerial meeting for TheStreet.com.