What seems to most enrage the delegates to the meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Prague this week is the idea that they even have to discuss the basic benefits of free-market globalization.
That discussion was supposed to have stopped in 1989, when the Wall fell and history ended. Only here they all are—old people, young people, thousands of them—literally storming the barricades of their extremely important summit.
And as the delegates peer over the side of their ill-protected fortress at the crowds below, scanning signs that say "Capitalism Kills," they look terribly confused. Didn't these strange people get the memo? Don't they understand that we all already decided that free-market capitalism was the last, best system? Sure, it's not perfect, and everyone inside the meeting is awfully concerned about all those poor people and the environmental mess, but it's not like there's a choice—is there?
When I arrived in London on Sunday, the city was like a jittery heroin junkie who had just shot up. The panic that gripped Britain when a coalition of truckers and farmers blockaded the nation's oil refineries had been replaced with an unreal calm. The gas was flowing again and, at the stations, dazed customers injected their tanks with rivers of unleaded.
As is the case with any powerful addiction, the fuel crisis hasn't disappeared; it has been, momentarily, sated. Protests against oil taxes are cropping up across Europe and they may well return to Britain after the moratorium called by the truck drivers expires in two months. Canadian truckers are even threatening to mount copycat actions.
Watched from a distance, the oil blockades in Britain look like spontaneous popular uprisings: regular working folk, frightened for their livelihoods, getting together to say, "Enough's enough." But before this David and Goliath story goes any further, it deserves a closer reading.
One time, when I was on the phone with Sympatico customer service, I shamelessly abused my privilege as a writer for this newspaper. "Look," I said, "I'm a columnist with The Globe and Mail and I need e-mail access now."
Of course, this was an extreme situation: I had tried and retried the connection, reconfigured my settings, reinstalled my modem software, and shut down and restarted my computer 16 times. Only then, when I still couldn't file my column, did I mention The Globe.
In New York City today, leaders of 150 countries are gathered for yet another meeting on globalization. Unlike all the other high-level meetings on the same theme, there won't be raucous crowds of environmentalists, workers and human-rights advocates outside, yelling about all the issues that have been bungled by the politicians inside. Why miss a perfectly protestable opportunity like this, in easily accessible, downtown New York?
Because the Millennium Summit isn't hosted by one of the many international agencies whose sole mission is to open up markets for free trade, while assuring a wary public that economic growth will magically eliminate poverty and save our ailing planet.
I wasn't thrilled that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service quoted my book in its new report on the anti-globalization "threat." In some of the circles in which I travel, writing for The Globe is enough of a political liability, never mind being a de facto CSIS informant. But there it is on Page 3: No Logo helping CSIS to understand why those crazy kids keep storming trade meetings.
Usually, I welcome any and all readers, but I have this sneaking suspicion that, a few months from now, this report is going to be used to justify smashing in the heads of some very good friends of mine.
In April, Quebec City will play host to the most significant free-trade summit since the World Trade Organization negotiations collapsed in Seattle last December. At the Summit of the Americas, 34 states will meet with the purpose of launching the Free Trade Area of the Americas—a version of the North American free-trade agreement for the entire hemisphere (except, of course, Cuba).