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Last weekend’s Washington, D.C., protests by the Gen X Hippie Nation
were the first time that many Americans realized that the World Bank and
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) even existed. Since the protesters
came from anticapitalist organizations, most conservatives dismissed
their protests without a second thought. That is unfortunate. Because
the protesters were right … for the wrong reasons. Let’s look at the
issues raised by the protesters from a conservative perspective.
The protesters said that debt repayment consumes too much of the
budgets of debt-ridden developing countries. As a result, poor countries
have little left for education, health care and infrastructure
development. The protesters are partially right.
Poor countries do owe more than $2.5 trillion. What is worse is that
much of this debt was the result of World Bank and IMF support of
corrupt, socialist governments. In addition, many projects financed with
this debt made things worse for the poor, not better. However, the
protesters’ solution, debt forgiveness, doesn’t make sense. It just
rewards crooks. A better solution is to tie repayment terms to real
economic and social progress.
The protesters said that the World Bank favors large, expensive
projects without regard for their social and environmental impact. Again
they are right. The World Bank has a terrible record of financing
environmentally unsound projects. It claims that it has changed its
policies, but it also insists that “holding Third World nations to tough
environmental standards will stifle development projects.” It is time
that all of us insist that the World Bank only finance projects that
muster in the West.
The protesters also oppose capitalism and support corrupt labor
unions. They believe that the free market means sweatshops and child
labor. They can’t be more wrong.
In many developing countries, a handful of wealthy families control
everything. These families are totally against competition and
capitalism. They want government to do everything to protect their
power, and since they are wealthy, they own the government. In other
countries, a handful of government leaders controls everything. They too
do not want competition or capitalism.
So instead of the free market being responsible for worker abuse, the
free market is the only mechanism that will free the poor from economic
servitude. However, that is something that the protesters refuse to
The protesters also oppose efforts to end price controls and import
substitution legislation that protects inefficient local producers. If
the protesters understood the basics of economic
competition, they would support efforts to open up the economies of poor
countries to competition.
Finally, the protesters complained that wealthy nations controlled
the World Bank and IMF. Well, they are right on this issue, and there is
nothing wrong with it. The nations that control the World Bank and the
IMF are also the nations that contribute the lion’s share of their
What the protesters want is take-from-the-rich and give-to-the-poor
socialism. We have tried that theory and it just doesn’t work.
The biggest accomplishment of the protesters was unintended. They
exposed the bankruptcy of our education system. We are graduating
students who have no idea how America creates jobs and products. They
believe in government control and socialism. Their ignorance of how
work is stunning. Thank heavens that the Internet revolution is
motivating many in their generation to understand the business and
The Seattle and Washington, D.C., protests represent a special
challenge for conservatives. The World Trade Organization, the World
Bank and the IMF are anticapitalist organizations. They work hard to
support a global government. Much of what they do undermines America’s
economic power and the cause of freedom.
The irony is that the protesters oppose these multilateral
organizations because they are not socialist enough. We conservatives
oppose the same organizations because they are part of a socialist fifth
column. It is time for conservatives to use the heightened visibility
that the protests generated for these anticapitalist organizations to
cut them down to size.