Saturday, April 24, 2010

More on the (Lack of an) Anti-Globalization Movement

. Saturday, April 24, 2010

Well. I type up a late-night blog post to give myself a temporary break from paper-writing, and wake up to find it the weekend topic du jour in the IPE blogosphere.

First, Drezner builds me up ("rising young blogger"... I'm not that young, and not rising that much either) before tearing me down:

Hmmm.... no, I don't think Winecoff is correct. Even if it's true that the kids today care more about environmental degradation than labor abuses, this shouldn't stop them from protesting at economic summits. Indeed, from the mid-nineties onwards, protests against labor and emvironmental abuses have gone together like racism/sexism/homophobia accusations.

Also, I would dispute the empirics of Winecoff's assertion. The protests didn't die out with the change in the decade -- they were pretty robust at G-8 summits in the first part of the naughties, as well as the 2003 Cancun WTO Ministerial and the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial. This is a more recent phenomenon.


If I'd done a better job of anticipating criticisms I would have addressed Drezner's first point ahead of time. Of course I agree that protests against labor and environmental practices often go hand-in-hand, but that's because protestors often see both of those issues as symptoms of a bigger disease: globalization forces developing countries into a race-to-the-bottom that erodes labor and environmental standards (and erodes cultural diversity and norms of reciprocity, etc.).

(An aside: those sorts of protests have generally be focused at the WTO and G-8/20. The IMF doesn't have anything to do with environmental politics, and the proximate cause for this discussion is an IMF protest.)

However the focus of environmental activists in the recent past has not primarily been about how globalization leads to race-to-the-bottom dynamics in the developing world; instead, it's been about how to convince national governments and their citizens in the developed world to agree to reduce carbon consumption. The WTO doesn't have much to do with this, although it eventually could if nations start slapping carbon tariffs on each other. But a prerequisite to that is getting national governments to agree to meaningful cap-and-trade regimes or carbon taxes, so activism has shifted to the national level for the time being.

As to my "empirics"... I don't have any. It was just a casual observation, and I didn't mean to imply that there was a strict shift in protest activity from "Tons" to "None" around the turn of the millennium. Merely that anti-globalization protests have tapered off over the past decade as the institutions associated with globalization have been less active. I still think that correlation holds pretty well, and it's even pretty consistent with what Drezner says. I think he's completely wrong about his Business Cycle Theory of Economic Protests, however:

During boom times, antiglobalizers score political points by stoking fears of cultural debasement and environmental degradation. During leaner years, naked self-interest becomes the salient concern: in the current economic climate, American opponents of globalization talk less about its effect on the developing world and more about the offshore outsourcing of jobs.


First of all, there's nothing in that that suggests that overall protests against globalization should decline during lean years, only that the anti-globalizationists should be complaining about slightly different things. In fact, we've seen an uptick in protest activity in the U.S. since the financial crisis, as we should probably expect. It's just that they're not complaining about globalization because the IMF/WB/WTO are not perceived to have had much to do with the current crisis. Instead, focus has shifted to other issues like deficits, health care, and corporate welfare.

Simon Lester agrees with my earlier point that there are fewer globalization protestors because there is less to protest about: the WTO, IMF, and WB have been much less active in recent years than they were in the 1990s. He also suggests that some protestors may have switched from anti-globalization to anti-war, and Stephanie Carvin pops up in comments here to say something similar. This makes a lot of sense to me (although those protests have also mostly dried up too, in the States at least; Carvin suggests they are alive and well in Europe).

It also backs up what was my original point: protestors have one-track minds. If they're focused on the war in Iraq then they aren't focused on labor rights in Latin America. If they're focused on getting the U.S. government to institute a cap-and-trade regime then they pay less attention to the World Bank subsidizing undemocratic governments. And if the IMF hasn't done anything onerous in a decade, then there just isn't much to protest.

I don't think this is permanent. I think protest activity changes with events. If we end up getting a wave of sovereign debt crises, and the IMF imposes austerity as a condition of loans, then we'll likely see IMF protests pick back up. If Doha ever moves towards completion without environmental protections built in, then we'll likely see more anti-WTO protests. But right now those issues just aren't very pressing, so protestors have moved to other things.

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More on the (Lack of an) Anti-Globalization Movement
 
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