Trading Up

Why globalization aids the poor

The movement that first coalesced in Seattle at the anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations last December and recurred in Washington, D.C., in opposition to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in April does not, of course, speak with one voice. It is a coalition involving unions, environmentalists, consumer groups, and religious communities, each with its own emphasis. But one element that links these groups is the belief that international trade is injurious to the poor and of benefit primarily to the wealthy. Activists who oppose "globalization" want to stop or at least slow the process of freer trade. In its place, many advocate greater economic self-sufficiency for the world’s poorest nations.

Economically and morally, however, the case against globalization is weak. During the last two decades the expansion of trade has been closely associated not simply with third-world economic growth, but with significant improvements in human welfare and the alleviation of poverty and suffering. To be sure, advances in well-being have not been as rapid or extensive as they should be. Much remains to be done to overcome the poverty and internal inequalities that blight poor nations. Nevertheless, the economic progress made in the last few decades by the poor around the world has been substantial. What concerns me, as an economist and an activist, is that the antiglobalization coalition opposes a process...

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About the Author

Jay Mandle is the W. Branford Wiley Professor of Economics at Colgate University. He is also director of development for Democracy Matters (www.democracymatters.org).