Stop the World, I Want to Get Off
Jude Wanniski
November 30, 1999


We sympathize with the tens of thousands of angry Americans in Seattle today, protesting plans to energize and expand the World Trade Organization (WTO). We at Polyconomics did not support its creation to begin with, seeing no need for another supranational financial institution with even greater juridical powers than the GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which had been around for a half century. The intent was to create a more efficient arbitration mechanism, one with teeth in it, to settle trade disputes among member nations, inasmuch as the GATT was so slow. When the world was slow, there could be gentlemen's agreements. In a more volatile world, there were suddenly fewer gentlemen. It also irritated our Political Establishment that in our GATT disputes with Tokyo, Japan always won. We are supposed to be the good guys and the Japanese the predators. Our multi-national financial and industrial companies -- the Big Guys who represent Established power -- don't do enough damage with their control of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. They need an international trade bureaucracy that serves THEIR interest all the time. This means having more "international" government under their control, beyond the reach of ordinary Americans who do not understand the imperatives of this new bang-bang world of cyberspace and megadeals.

My sympathies are with Pat Buchanan, who is the only presidential contender responding to the anxieties of the ordinary folks, those who can't keep up with a world spinning faster than ever and who want it to slow down. They don't know how to do it and are told by their betters that if they try, they will be ridiculed as protectionists, isolationists, Luddites and, well, slobs. How astonished I was Sunday morning watching ABC's "This Week" with Sam & Cokie, when the panel of Bill Kristol, George Will, George Stephanopoulos, Sam Donaldson, and Cokie Roberts all readily and happily agreed that the two major political parties were now under the sway of big business. Once upon a time, the Democrats represented labor and the Republicans represented capital. Now, said Cokie, looking surprised, all that the working slob has left is Buchanan.

Of course, Pitchfork Pat is in Seattle, complaining about the WTO as a real threat to American sovereignty. It probably does not strike Bill Gates that WTO is a threat to American sovereignty. Microsoft is spending a bundle on ads here and there in the political press supporting WTO. His corporation is of course the exemplar of the Borderless New World, which promises to move the world ahead without leaving anyone behind -- without a free copy of Windows 95. (You also should know I was rooting against Microsoft in its Justice Department suit.) In and of itself, WTO is nothing to worry about, and in fact has been practically lifeless since its creation four years ago. This is why President Clinton is working so hard to move it along. He will speak in Seattle tomorrow, singing its praises. At the same time Jack Kemp of Empower America, also in Seattle, will be warning against any plans Clinton & Co. may have to "link" trade issues to "human rights," the environment, and the rights of workers in the Sudan or Namibia to bargain collectively. Buchanan has a more awkward position. He wants trade "links," but without giving the WTO power to employ them. And he more or less only wants them with countries that have big trade surpluses with the United States.

What we have here is an argument between those who want to speed up trade in the world economy, to sell more high-tech where we have no competitors, and those who at least want to slow it down, so those being left behind can catch up. It is going to be a long argument.