- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

A few weeks ago in Genoa, Italy, violent protests again erupted during a meeting of finance ministers of the major industrialized nations. More protests are planned for next month, when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund hold their annual meeting.
These protests, reminiscent of those against the Vietnam War 30 years ago, unite a disparate group of activists: environmentalists, unions, right-wing anti-immigrant groups, left -wingers opposed to big corporations and anarchists seemingly opposed to just about everything.
What brings these diverse forces together is a uniform hatred, fear and distrust of globalization. Like the terms capitalism and socialism, globalization means many things to many people. In many respects, it is an empty vessel into which can be poured all manner of grievances, both real and imagined.
Like the anti-war movement, which was always about more than just war, the anti-globalization effort is about more than just globalization. After all, taken at face value, who can oppose globalization? We are all stuck on the same planet together; natural resources are not evenly distributed, necessitating trade; and technology is bringing everyone on Earth closer together by the minute.
In short, globalization is a fact, not a policy. We can no more oppose or protest against it than we can oppose the weather or protest the color of the sky. They are what they are.
What people can protest, of course, are specific policies that fall under the rubric of globalization, even if they are only loosely interrelated. Free trade, for example, has been opposed for hundreds of years and been a hot-button issue since the earliest days of the republic.
In her new book, "Taking Trade to the Streets," economist Susan Ariel Aaronson reminds us that there is nothing new about protesting free trade. She argues that the American Revolution can, in part, be viewed as a protest against British intrusion into the American market. Indeed, virtually all of the Founding Fathers were opposed to free trade, at least until such time as American industry had grown out of its infancy.
The author reviews the history of American trade policy from the American Revolution to the present day, concentrating on development of the free trade consensus that has governed U.S. policy since the 1930s. This grew out of the widespread view that protectionism, in the form of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, was a principal cause of the Great Depression and World War II. Hence, postwar policy-makers were united in their belief that protectionism should never again be allowed to run rampant.
A number of important institutions grew out of the free trade consensus, especially the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT. Under the auspices of GATT, many rounds of international trade talks took place that gradually brought down tariffs to historically low levels. But as tariffs, the traditional protectionist tool, fell, nontariff barriers to trade grew in importance and became targets for the free traders.
Nontariff barriers include a broad array of government regulations relating to safety and health, the environment, labor and living standards, and cultural preservation, among other things. Thus, the effort to open trade eventually came into conflict with many groups not normally viewed as having any particular interest in trade issues. They came to view trade agreements as back doors through which regulations could be weakened. And they saw those supporting free trade as less interested in trade than in weakening regulation.
The author carefully charts how these nontraditional trade critics came to join the traditional protectionists, always looking to protect jobs and profits from foreign competitors. It explains why Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan the extreme candidates on the left and right, respectively, in the 2000 presidential election had more in common with each other than the two centrist candidates, George W. Bush and Al Gore. Messrs. Nader and Buchanan may have come from opposite poles, politically and ideologically, but they were joined at the hip in their opposition to globalization.
Susan Aaronson ends her interesting and informative book by concluding that the new globalization critics are here to stay and must be dealt with by those (including herself) who favor open trade and new international agreements to facilitate it. She suggests that if such agreements were seen as creating a new international regulatory framework for trade, they would be viewed more positively by the nontraditional trade critics who have come to dominate the debate.

Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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