Thursday, April 20, 2000

The anti-capitalism protesters who demonstrated here this week for “global justice” and a grab bag of other leftist, radical causes had at least one thing in common: a profound ignorance of how the free market works and who benefits from it.

In a golden era in which capitalism is succeeding around the world, and communism, socialism and other statist systems are dead, dying or in retreat, the ragtag army of revolutionaries who gathered here were attempting to reactivate long-dormant causes that seem to be alive and well only in our college classrooms.

Ostensibly, they came to protest the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and to call for the dismantling of these multilateral lending institutions, which annually give away billions of dollars from productive, capitalist economies to desperately poor socialist economies, with few results.

One thing the protest leaders had right: These two world bodies, with their misguided policies of New Deal-style public works projects, budget austerity and high taxation, are hurting the poor countries they are trying to help. The World Bank and the IMF, to which we give billions of dollars in aid, can point to few if any success stories.

But the anti-capitalism, anti-global investment, anti-free trade, anti-multinational and anti-growth statements that permeate the protesters’ rhetoric shows how pathetically uninformed they are about free-market economics.

Listen to Juliette Beck, one of the organizers of the World Bank-IMF protests: “Many young people are awakening to the reality that the widespread social, ecological and spiritual crises we’ve inherited are caused by living in a capitalist society.”

If many young people are awakening to that, it must be because they are learning it from leftist college professors (whose salaries are derived from the capitalists who pay tuitions and taxes and contribute to alumni funds) who still pine for the days of socialism to rise up again around the world.

On the contrary, it is our capitalist system that has not only given Americans the most prosperous economy on Earth, it has lifted more people out of poverty than any system in human history.

We have become the economic role model for countries around the world in Asia, Western and Eastern Europe, and throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The Asian Tigers Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and now China were not the upwardly mobile economies they are now. They are among the dominant capitalist economies in the region because they have put power into the hands of investors, workers and entrepreneurs by breaking down regulatory, statist barriers to free-market commerce.

But Juliette Beck seems as abysmally ignorant of the benefits of global capitalism as she is of the benefits of capitalism here in this country. Writing in The Washington Post, she states: “Decisions made by Wall Street will never eliminate poverty… . Is the goal to maximize corporate profits for the few or to meet all basic human needs and protect the Earth?”

Profits for the few? Nearly half of all Americans now own the U.S. economy through capitalist-driven stock ownership.

“The most significant demographic shift of this century is the rise of history’s first mass class of worker capitalists men and women whose wealth-seeking activities include both wage earning and capital ownership,” writes Richard Nadler in a recent study for the Cato Institute. Nearly 80 million Americans, representing nearly half of all U.S. households, own stocks or stock mutual funds that have paid handsome returns on their investments.

Employee stock-ownership plans are also growing by leaps and bounds. Production line workers for big multinational corporations such as Procter & Gamble and hundreds of other companies are sharing in corporate profits and becoming wealthy as a result.

And this capitalist wealth creation cuts across all race and income lines. The New York Stock Exchange estimates that 10 million stock-holding families have incomes of $25,000 or less. Nearly one-fourth of all black families own more than $5,000 in stocks, bonds or mutual funds, according to a recent poll.

As for protecting the Earth, the formerly communist countries (where corporations and profits did not exist) and other state-run economies have the worst environments on the planet, while environmental quality here and in other capitalist nations is very high.

One of the groups demonstrating here called itself the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc. To them, capitalism is responsible for the world’s impoverished countries.

But poverty, hunger, illiteracy and pollution in North Korea, India, South America, Africa and elsewhere in the world exist because of the absence of free markets, not because of them.

The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom shows that the most prosperous countries in the world are the ones that have opened their economies to foreign investment and global trade by lowering or eliminating tariffs, deregulating their economies to make it easy to start a business, and lowering taxes to spur growth and economic expansion.

On the other hand, the index shows that the poorest countries in the world have the opposite policies: high taxes, protectionist trade barriers and thickets of regulations that prevent new business formation. Capitalism is not the problem in these countries, it is the solution.

These confused, uninformed protesters were demonstrating in the wrong place and against the wrong economic system.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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