- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

Its hard to imagine a group of people more ignorant than the protesters who demonstrated against free trade at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.
Despite overwhelming economic evidence to the contrary all around the globe, these anti-free-trade Luddites argue that hemispheric free-trade agreements only make the rich richer and the poor poorer, inflict incalculable damage on the environment and worsen labor conditions.
"One, two, three, four, we dont want free trade no more," they chanted.
It is worth noting that many of those who engaged in violent protests, hurling rocks at police and ramming barricades, believe in little or nothing except anarchy. They seemed to be protesting simply to demonstrate their hatred of all kinds of authority and civil order.
Many others were members of extreme-left-wing organizations such as the Anti-Capitalist Convergence. These groups oppose free markets, capitalism and, of course, the emerging global economy. In its place, they want Draconian tariffs, trade quotas and other controls placed on imports and exports, prices, wages and business practices.
For these severely uninformed, misguided people, the enemy is economic freedom and what they deride as "globalism," which is nothing more than successful businesses who manufacture and sell their products and services in international open markets.
In fact, these protesters have things exactly backward. The enemy of poverty is free and open trade. The most prosperous countries in the world are those that have the most economic freedom, low taxes and the lowest barriers to foreign trade. Conversely, the poorest nations in the world are those that have the least economic freedom and the greatest restrictions on trade.
Want proof? Look it up in the latest edition of Economic Freedom of the World, a global index published by the Fraser Institute in Vancouver. The index rates each country on its openness to trade, protection of private property, availability of capital markets in which currency can be exchanged, and pursuit of democratic policies necessary for a prosperous economy.
The Trade Openness Index shows, among other things, that countries with the freest trade policies have the highest per capita incomes. Among the Top 10: Hong Kong, Singapore, Belgium, Switzerland, the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Ireland and Malaysia.
Among those at the bottom of the income scale are countries that have very restrictive trade policies: India, Brazil, Argentina, Tanzania, Madagascar, Algeria, Syria, Sierra Leone, Iran, Burundi, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The list is long and tragic.
The most open trading countries, with few exceptions, had much higher per capita purchasing power, ranging from $30,000 in Singapore to nearly $20,000 in Ireland.
Poor countries with the lowest trade openness ratings had dismal per capita incomes, ranging from $530 a year in Sierra Leone to $1,831 in India.
Many of the countries at the top of the list were not there a couple of decades ago. They once practiced protectionism, and their economies were depressed. But the trend is moving quickly toward a lowering of trade barriers.
The reason for this disparity is simple enough even for the protesters to understand. The "more-open economies will grow more rapidly and achieve higher living standards because openness stimulates (a) gains from specialization and trade, (b) innovation and efficient production, and (c) adoption of sound economic policies," the annual report said.
"Our findings are consistent with this view: Persistently open economies had higher levels of per capita income and grew more rapidly than those that were more closed," the study said.
How much more growth can free trade produce? The survey found that "if India were as open as the United Kingdom, its long-term growth rate would be increased by approximately 1 percent."
Fortunately, change is taking place as the global economy expands. "The average Trade Openness Index rating rose substantially during the period from 1980 to 1998, indicating that the world economy became more open," the survey said.
Notably, "Mexico, China, Ireland and the Philippines were among the countries registering both a sizable increase in their Trade Openness Index and a huge increase in trade as a share of GDP."
The Heritage Foundation also publishes an Index of Economic Freedom. Its index, like the Fraser Institutes, shows that countries that restrict or forbid free trade are the poorest in the world. Heritage is proposing a worldwide Free Trade Association to open up the worlds most prosperous industrialized markets to countries that deregulate their trade policies.
The Western Hemisphere leaders who gathered in Quebec last week know what the problem is: poverty on a vast scale across most of Central and South America. And they know what the cure is: free markets, free trade and lower taxes.
No matter how well-meaning they are, those who oppose these economic prescriptions are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem.

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

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