anti globalization

System article Type:English Date time:2010-07-01 00:00:00
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Business conferences don't achieve real status these days, it seems, unless
they attract throngs of rock-throwing, meat-eschewing, puppet-wielding anti
globalization protesters. In another sense, the protesters were everywhere-in
speeches, in hallway discussions, and most of all, in spirit. "All these
protesters from Seattle to Genoa are on to something," mused Bill Clinton, who
argued that the world couldn't sustain a global economy if didn't also build
a "global society." Wondering why people kept returning to the issue, another
participant likened it to a little sore that everybody keeps scratching.
It's an odd time to suggest such a thing, we know. The protesters who grabbed
the world's megaphone two years ago in Seattle have never seemed so irrelevant
or misguided as they have since September 11. When they have not been blaming
the U.S. for all the world's ills, they have blamed "globalization" for the
recent terrorist attacks. But it would be a mistake to write off their movement
as a failure. In fact, they may have already achieved their main goal:
fracturing a consensus that, in retrospect, looks almost as silly as the
protesters' puppets. They certainly have the attention of politicians,
especially in Europe. The protesters' ideas have made inroads elsewhere,
including in many of the institutions they most vociferously oppose. The World
Bank, for instance, has embraced-critics say capitulated to-their goal of
"sustainable development" edging away from huge infrastructure projects like
dams and agreeing that economic growth alone isn't enough to reduce poverty.
Meanwhile, the Bank has been cozying up to nongovernment organizations and other
"civil society" groups who protesters say represent "the people." And across the
street at the International Monetary Fund, pressure from groups like Drop the
Debt has sped up debt relief for developing nations. Corporations, too, have
increasingly been changing their ways to appease activists. Stung by successful
campaigns against their brands, multinationals like Shell and Nike have adopted
much the same line as their NGO foes. All that is a marked shift from just a
year or two ago, when pundits could dismiss the protesters as "a Noah's ark of
flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their
1960s fix," in the words of New York Times columnist and globalization booster
Thomas Friedman. When Fried man finally backed off his hard-line stance in a
column last summer-acknowledging that at least some of the protesters were raising
legitimate questions-it was considered something of a watershed event.
The conversation really has changed," says Dani Rodrik, a Harvard economist who
studies trade. "We've moved from a situation where the professional technocrats
would pooh-pooh the protesters as a bunch of know-nothing retrogrades to one where
that line has completely evaporated. Intellectually, the battle is really won.
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