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Jewish World Review Dec. 3,1999 /24 Kislev, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Mob rule in Seattle

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE RIOTS IN SEATTLE are one of the painful signs of our moral decline in the midst of economic prosperity. There have always been riots from time to time throughout history. But there has not always been such toleration of mob actions by local and national leaders and by those who shape public opinion.

We can't even call the people who are rioting rioters. They are called "demonstrators" or "protesters" by the mealy-mouthed media. They are smashing windows, destroying cars, defying police and keeping people pinned up in their hotels. But we can't even bring ourselves to be so harsh as to call them rioters.

What are they rioting about? The motley groups gathered in Seattle have come from far and wide, and range from environmentalists to labor unions to just plain hoodlums who get a kick out of taking advantage of any breakdown in law and order.

Officially, they are protesting the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle to promote freer international trade. Just as the rioters are taking away the right of other people to use the streets of their own community, they also want to take away the right of consumers to buy whatever they want from wherever they want to get it. Behind the pretty rhetoric is the ugly reality of people who want to dictate through mob action what other people will and will not be allowed to do.

Placards and speeches about protecting jobs are a farce. Jobs have grown by leaps and bounds after the North American Free Trade Agreement, despite claims that there would be "a giant sucking sound" as jobs left the United States for Third World countries.

The facts have already shot down this argument. A study of Economics 1 would explain why. But, when you are busy saving the world, there is not always time to repair your own ignorance.

Everything that leads to more efficient production-- whether domestically or internationally-- can cause particular people to lose particular jobs. Farm machinery caused millions of people to lose their jobs in agriculture. That is why there were millions of people available to go to work in industry, raising the American standard of living.

It is the same principle internationally. Many of the computers we use were manufactured overseas because people in Silicon Valley have better things to do.

American workers cannot be in two places at the same time. Silicon Valley leads the world in producing software because they are not spending their time making computers that can just as easily be manufactured in Taiwan or Korea.

Yes, 17 million people lost their jobs in the first half of this decade. But there were never 17 million people unemployed. On the contrary, unemployment fell to its lowest level in years and more new jobs have been created than ever before.

Labor unions don't care about that. They don't represent "workers" in general. They represent the special interests of their own members, many of whom have union contracts that have priced them out of their jobs.

What the unions want is to prevent consumers from buying what they want from whomever they want. They want consumers to be forced to subsidize the inefficiencies created by unions. Industrial workers have already understood that unions are jeopardizing their jobs, which is why unions keep losing so many elections in so many industries where workers are increasingly refusing to join.

The only sector where unions are growing is government. Here they can in fact force the consumers to pay to subsidize their inefficiencies because the consumers are the taxpayers, who have no choice.

The other big segment of the mobs gathered in Seattle are the environmentalists. Having tied up American industry in red tape, they want to do the same thing internationally. They are little totalitarians, at home or abroad.

What the mob action in Seattle is all about is getting free advertising on nationwide television to promote the special interests represented by the rioters. The riots are a legitimate news event. But rewarding rioters with interviews to spout their message is just encouraging riots.

Sports broadcasters learned years ago that televising exhibitionists who ran out onto a baseball field was just encouraging more of the same.

When will the "hard news" broadcasters learn the same lesson?


JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate