Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 1999 /30 Kislev, 5760
Analyzing Seattle's end-of-the-century version of the storming of the Winter Palace, The Post's correspondent wrote that proponents of free trade can no longer just tell people that free trade improves workers' jobs and consumers' choices: "It turns out people also care about the loss of the corner bookstore."
Well. Tom Hayden, incarnation of the American left (nostalgia for Grant Park, Chicago, 1968), congratulated the protesters for dealing with so many issues--with "everything." But even if, as is not the case, independent bookstores were vanishing because of Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, what would that have to do with globalization?
The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook remembers when turmoil in the streets concerned war, civil rights, abortion. This year the issues are "the genetic modification of canola oil and WTO side letters on cross-border intellectual-property enforcement." Which is an index of social health.
A Business Week headline: "The 'Frankenfood' Monster Stalks Capitol Hill." The story: "Consumer and environmental groups are turning up the heat on Congress and regulatory agencies to crack down on biotech foods." The "flash point" is legislation to require food companies to disclose, on labels, genetically modified ingredients. One of the legislation's sponsors, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Cleveland Democrat, says, "Labeling is inevitable."
Time was, the left's language of inevitability pertained to the collapse of capitalism and the transition to socialism. Now what is inevitable is more fine print on food labels, even though, as Easterbrook says, there is no scientific evidence that any genetically modified crop has done any harm to anyone anywhere.
The left thought of itself as internationalist (the song atop its hit parade was "The Internationale") until Aug. 3, 1914. Then Germany's largest party, the Social Democrats, at the time the world's most important party of the left, said: Come to think about it, workers do have fatherlands, and we shall vote for war credits.
Since then, semi-autarky has been the left's recurring temptation. Protectionism is imperative for the left's agenda, which is ever-increasing government allocation of wealth and opportunity.
The left's fellow travelers include corporate protectionists. Seeking relief from the rigors of competition, they became "progressives" urging government regulation of trade--of course, always in the name of altruism (protecting workers and the environment elsewhere). Similarly, Main Street merchants, haunted by the specter of a Wal-Mart at the edge of town, use zoning and other laws to protect themselves from competition, always in the name of preserving downtown's "communitarian" values, not--heaven forfend!--its real estate values.
Some say the Seattle protests portend a "global progressive coalition." But the protesters oppose the most progressive force of the past two centuries. Trade that drives economic development--and better nutrition and health--has been, strictly speaking, progressive because the poor have gained most.
Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago writes that in 1875 the British elite lived on average 17 years longer than the population as a whole. Today the gap is one year. Life expectancy increased twice as much in the past century as during the previous 200,000 years, with the poor benefiting most. In Britain at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the typical male laborer was five inches shorter at maturity than the typical male member of the elite. Today the difference is about an inch.
Change can be disturbing, but change has been the only constant of modern life ever since the famous modernist Heraclitus (d. 475 B.C. ) said that. Larry McMurtry, the novelist ("Lonesome Dove," etc.), knows that pell-mell change is no novelty of 20th century America. In "Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen," McMurtry's new memoir of growing up in Archer County, Tex., he notes that it was just one long lifetime from the Lewis and Clark expedition to Wounded Knee--indeed to the Census Bureau's 1890 declaration that the frontier was closed.
McMurtry writes, "My grandfather, in the strictest sense of the word,
started from scratch, in a place without a house, on land that had never
been plowed." Some people became deranged by the sheer baldness of
the landscape. Imagine what they would have thought of people who
fly--fly!--to Seattle to lament the hardships of modern
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