What Developing Countries Want
And now, a word from the "victims." After a weekend of protests in Washington against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, it might be enlightening to hear from the people of the Third World. Even as the world's poor were invoked in the streets as victims of corporations and multilateral financial institutions, the Group of 24 developing countries inside the IMF was meeting. Guess what? The G24 isn't entirely happy about the way globalization is going either, but the developing countries want to change the rules of the globalization game, not abandon it. They believe that to end poverty, growth is good, not bad. Trade is good, not bad. But there is plenty of room to debate the terms of trade, investment, and even corporate behavior.
If the privileged students were guilty of naivete, it is equally true that policymakers in the IMF and World Bank are guilty of hubris. It is time to listen seriously to the developing countries themselves. This is what they are saying:
-- Give us access. Despite its stance as a free-market nation, the U.S. is still protectionist in a handful of markets: sugar, steel, and especially textiles. Developing-country representatives say that a key reason the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle failed was U.S. intransigence in opening its textile markets. Developing countries have a huge edge in textiles but say that protectionist legislators and unions are stopping them from exporting more.
-- Give us capital. Developing countries refute both the protesters and the conservatives in Congress who want to curb IMF and World Bank lending. They want more capital, not less; long-term investment, not hot money. Koreans and Thais say the Asian financial crisis highlights the need for local regulatory banking oversight and short-term capital controls.
-- Give us a voice. Developing countries want access to decision-makers. South Korean economists say they told the IMF in 1997 it was misreading the situation but were ignored. Only when the IMF reversed course did Korea begin to recover. Indonesian economists say they warned the IMF that blood would flow if the fund demanded that food subsidies be abolished. They were ignored, and thousands died. Economists from developing countries--many trained at Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago--often have better credentials than officials of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO. They want to be heard.
The protesters succeeded in opening up the conversation about globalization. But protest must lead to solutions. Students should return to campus and study the history and geopolitics of Asia, Latin America, and Africa. They must learn about the economics of development. Yes, it is tragic to see 13-year-old Asian girls working in Nike factories, but such jobs may actually hold more promise than backbreaking farm labor, indentured servitude, or worse. Yes, the World Bank should not finance huge steel plants. But it isn't remotely responsible for the horrors in the Congo. Blame that on corrupt leaders. Just ask the developing countries. They'll tell you.