The global economy is under assault by a strange alliance of radical groups and mainstream environmental organizations. The outfits from the far left are longtime opponents of the capitalist system, so their opposition to trade between nations is not new.
It is surprising, however, that the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Earth are associated with this effort to oppose the modern economy. Therefore, those views need a response, especially since they are being circulated via expensive full-page advertisements in major national media against "Economic Globalization."
Here are the major arguments and my personal responses:
*"The goal of the global economy is that all countries should be homogenized." One of the ads states that "a few decades ago, it was still possible to leave home and go somewhere else: The landscape was different, the language, lifestyle, dress, and values were different."
Homogenization is not the goal of any business association involved in the global marketplace. It runs counter to the division of labor that is at the heart of the global economy. It does not make any economic sense for each country to become a carbon copy of every other country.
Every business that has operated successfully in more than one country has learned that people's tastes are hardly uniform. Despite the rise of the European Union, the French are not stampeding for German wines and the British are still driving on the wrong side of the road.
Consider these pairs of countries: France and China, Poland and New Zealand, or Denmark and Thailand. Anyone who has visited them knows that they are quite different in landscape, language, lifestyle, dress, and values.
*"Diversity is an enemy because it requires differentiated sales appeal." On the contrary, diversity in all its dimensions has become a watchword in the modern corporation. Moreover, individual corporations love to focus on those differences that provide "niches" in their constant efforts to achieve product differentiation.
*"Every country loses while global corporations win." Business enterprises that operate in the international economy typically are the most effective source of economic development in the poorer nations in which they invest and provide new technology. At home, these enterprises pay well-above-average wages and benefits.
*"Millions have protested against the invasion and promotion of genetically engineered foods that are destroying local livelihoods and threatening public health." There is no evidence of any public health threat from genetically engineered foods. These applications of advanced technology to agriculture are the most effective way of increasing the world's food supply while reducing the use of pesticides and insecticides.
*"We are on the brink of a global environmental collapse."
Oops. The Environmental Protection Agency regularly reports on the substantial improvements that have been achieved in the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
*"Any nation's people are most secure when they can produce their own food." The security of a society is strongly influenced by a variety of factors, ranging from the strength of its armed forces to the support of its people. History surely does not demonstrate that a country is secure, much less "most secure," when it has attained agricultural autarchy (totally eliminating dependence on food imports).
Rather, the success of its economy - which would be denigrated by an attempt to produce all of its own food - is a far more positive determinant of a country's independence.
If the full policy agenda of the anti-global activists were adopted, the long-run effect would be for the United States and other industrialized nations to lose the benefits of the specialization of labor, and suffer severe declines in standards of living. Ironically, the economic costs would soon be translated into environmental costs. Wealthier countries can afford to devote more resources to achieving a cleaner environment, and they do so. Poorer countries do far less to clean up the environment.
*Murray Weidenbaum is chairman of the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society