Commentary

I Love Global Capitalism—and I’m Under 30

By Aaron Lukas
April 20, 2001
“Fight corporate power and greed!”

Thus runs the refrain of the perpetual- protest set. From Seattle to Washington, D.C., from Prague to Davos, and soon in Quebec, street-bound “carnivals against capitalism” have become a political lollapalooza that no deeply caring, shallow-thinking young person can afford to miss. If you aren’t protesting, you aren’t cool.

Well, for you politicians and journalists out there, I have an announcement: I’m in my ‘20s and I like global capitalism. And here’s some more news: Most people my age agree with me.

Yet you won’t hear much about my views at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Quebec. Instead, you’ll see members of my generation trumpeting their passionate concern for the environment, the world’s poor, Mumia Abu-Jamal, organic farming and a laundry list of other causes.

Honestly, I’m not sure what planet these kids are living on. They look at the world and see only exploitation and repression, as if such evils were the bane of multinational corporations and not the norm throughout history.

In contrast, I see a flowing of human liberty and material prosperity. I see the move toward economic freedom that has swept through the Communist and developing worlds over the past decades for what it is: a recognition on the part of national leaders that their state-dominated systems have failed—failed in absolute terms as billions of people remained mired in grinding poverty, and failed in relative terms by comparison with the prosperous West and the relatively open and thriving Pacific Rim. Free trade has not been imposed from the top down; it has emerged from the bottom up.

Trade is also a matter of freedom here at home; the freedom to spend your own money on whatever you wish, regardless of the skin color or language of the person you decide to buy from; the freedom to invest your savings where you choose, even if that choice is on the other side of the planet. We have no more right to tell our fellow citizens what brand of clothing or car they must buy any more than we have the right to tell them what they can say or think.

Free trade has been good for both workers and the environment. By promoting economic growth, it enables less- developed countries to afford higher environmental standards and helps create an educated middle class to support them. A similar story exists with wages and labor conditions, which are improving in those places where globalization has taken hold.

The institutions that govern trade, like the Free Trade Area of the Americas to be discussed in Quebec, are no threat to sovereignty or democracy. Such agreements are nothing but contractual arrangements between sovereign nations to mediate trade disputes according to rules agreed upon by consensus. And despite the talk of “secret” negotiations, the Summit of the Americas is more democratic than the people it drives to apoplexy. After all, the negotiators at Quebec represent elected governments from throughout the hemisphere. Who elected the purple- haired sign-waver on the street in the black mask? The disruption and damage left in the wake of these protests are more akin to mob rule than democracy.

Puppet-bearing students in Quebec will speak of a “global corporate coup d’etat.” But let me let you in on a little secret: Most young people don’t hate corporations. In fact, many of us either work in one, know someone who does, or even own stock in one. Corporations are nothing more than voluntary associations of people who are trying to achieve some common business goal. So the “evil, sinister, greedy corporation” mantra doesn’t jibe with our life experiences. It’s propaganda, and we know it.

Hurtling oneself against a police barricade in protest of free trade may be fun. But it’s hardly a brave act for spoiled children of affluence—though ask any protester and you’ll inevitably hear a tale of “hardship” (I had to work and go to school!)—to rail against the instruments of their own prosperity. Doubtless many of the Quebec marchers will be concerned for the world’s poor. Yet through their opposition to open markets they make themselves the enemies of the poor.

Hey kids, want to help make the world a better place? Then grow up: Start a business or get a job. Want to help the poor? Hire them. “Corporate greed” has helped far more people than big puppets ever will.

Aaron Lukas is an analyst in the Center for Trade Policy Studies.