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Monday 23 September 2002

Anti-IMF Manifestoes

Yesterday, I was reading an anti-globalization scavenger hunt list (it’s at the bottom of that page), a partly-tongue-in-cheek list of suggestions for time-killers for lulls during this week’s planned protests in Washington. It includes things like

Organize workplace to strike - 500 points

Occupy offices of K Street PR firm - 500 points

Occupy abandoned building - 400 points each

Plant trees in middle of street - 400 points each tree

Banner hang from building - 400 points

Pie corporate CEO or government official - 400 points

Smashed McDonalds window - 300 points each

Banner hang from highway overpass - 300 points each

Whack a CEO in the head - 300 points each

Talk to person on street about anti-capitalism - 200 points

none of which I’m even going to go into. Linked from the scavenger hunt page I found this page, which is a (the?) call-to-action for the hippies. It calls for them to “shut down” Washington on 27 September as a way of protesting (primarily) the IMF and World Bank’s involvement in third-world affairs and (more generally) the concept of “capitalism”.

This call-to-action includes a list of interesting demands, most of which are amusing.

Their first demand is that

the World Bank and IMF be abolished!

They go on:

The World Bank and IMF are never going to reform themselves and abolish or even lesson [sic] poverty as they claim. To do so, would mean putting themselves out of a job, as their business is making money off loans to indebt countries.

Well, yes and no. The World Bank and IMF probably cause as many problems as they solve, and the world would be a better place without them. It’s hard to find information on these institutions that even pretends to be impartial, though, so I may be misinformed. It seems that the whole enterprise results in more moral hazard, though.

We demand an end to privatization and structural adjustment everywhere.

“Privatization” usually means taking some function that the government was barely fulfilling, writing an incredible lot of regulations governing it, and farming it out to private industry. You then have a function that’s performed with even less flexibility than before, and with someone trying to squeeze the operation to make a profit out of it.

On this one, I’m in agreement with the hippies: no more “privatization”. I’m not sure they’d appreciate my policy of “de-nationalization”, though.

An end to all debt!

Meaning all national as well as personal debt. I’m all for this; I’d all of a sudden have no mortgage. Nobody owes me any money, so aside living in the state of nature that would result from the total collapse of the world’s economy, I’d be sitting pretty.

Personal debt is created through unfair credit and lending schemes designed to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

If “poor” == “stupid”, yes. I was once offered a car loan at 23.5%. I turned this down, and the people at the dealer were shocked. Apparently most people accept the 23.5% loan.

We want housing and food for everyone […] In Washington DC there are over 29,000 empty units of housing yet, families are put on waiting lists for years to get into houses

The problem is that most of those 29,000 empty units of housing are illegal to occupy, because they don’t meet the building codes. Some of those places are truly unsafe (there are still things in Washington that are burned out from the 1968 riots), but a lot of them just don’t have sprinklers, smoke detectors in every room, etc.

Sprinklers and smoke detectors are fine things, but I believe that humanity survived for at least a few generations without them. If we decree that every house must be a palace, a lot of homes are going to be refrigerator boxes.

Point this out, though, and you’ll be accused of wanting the poor to burn to death while the rich are snug in their mansions (collecting interest on those car loans). The ironic thing is that the rich generally don’t have sprinklers in their houses, as the more absurd requirements only apply to multi-unit housing.

Freedom for everyone: Immigrant Rights and Civil Liberties

Can’t really argue with that. But they go on to say:

People from around the world immigrate to DC, hoping for more freedom, many from countries devastated by war or decades of World Bank/ IMF policies. Upon arriving though, they often encounter racism, xenophobia, and poverty and find themselves with few rights and little control over their lives.

Which prompts me to wonder whether these people have ever been out of the United States in their lives. The United States is certainly the least racist and xenophobic place I’ve ever been. And as for poverty — weren’t these people fleeing World Bank/IMF-created poverty in their old countries? Is the point that they’re worse off here? If so, why don’t they go back? Is it not possible that recent immigrants tend to be poorer than the general population, due to a lack of the right knowledge, experience, and social skills and connections?

Women’s liberation.

Of course.

Though women have fought for and achieved many rights in most countries there continues to be an attack on women’s freedoms in the US and around the world.

Yes. The U.S. continues to “attack” women’s freedoms. Obviously. There are some countries in the world where women’s freedoms are under attack, or where they don’t exist at all. But these countries tend to be run by people with dark skin, and that somehow gets them a pass. And:

Women, particularly women of color, are often the most exploited people in the global economy

Yes, like the ones who are worked to the bone being National Security Advisor.

An end to the racist prison industrial system

Well, I don’t know that it’s necessarily racist by design, but I can get behind the idea that the prison system in the U.S. has become a self-perpetuating bureaucracy and industry. But:

People who do not fit it into the capitalist system and could pose a threat to its existence are locked up - in particular black men, Native American, and single moms.

The “black men” thing can go unchallenged. But Native Americans and single moms? They’re just trying to work in a mention, a shout-out to their peeps, as it were, for every one of their imagined constituencies.

Single moms?! I’ll grant that most of the women in prison in the United States are probably unmarried and a great many of them are probably mothers. But I don’t think they were put away for that.

An end to imperialism and terrorism by the US government and all other states.

Well, yes, I’m in favor of that, too. But if by imperialism you mean selling people what they are willing to purchase, and if by terrorism you mean an unwillingness to roll over for one’s enemies, well, I have to disagree. They link this to Cuba:

The US uses sanctions against Cuba to attempt to get the country to bend to the US governments and corporations will and recently sanctions against the country have been increased.

And, in some other ways, decreased, but we won’t go into that. I’d say it’s equally likely that one of the main reasons Castro is still in power at all is because of the U.S. trade embargo. If Cuba were a cheap vacationland for millions of Americans a year, the resulting cultural exchange would long ago have made Castroism untenable.

End colonial status of DC and developing countries.

They mention “developing” countries in their Demand, but in the broader complaint they talk about nothing but Washington, DC — which isn’t a “colony” at all, but which was established as a federal district from the start. Since 1790 it’s been made clear that Congress can rule the capitol city any way it likes; everyone living in DC today moved there or is descended from someone who moved there after this was made clear.

Washington is certainly a horribly mismanaged place, but demanding an end to its “colonial” status is just a non sequitur.

An end to capitalism!

At last the real point. Doesn’t it seem, though, that this clashes with their earlier demand for freedom for everyone? Or is it to be freedom for everyone, unless they’re buying or selling something? It seems to me that a lot of the immigrants they want so badly to help are in fact small businessmen, selling hot dogs and ugly ties at Metro stations.

They support their Demand:

No longer should ones survival and access to human needs be determined by ones economic means.

Or, no longer should one’s economic ends be determined by one’s economic means. I thought these guys were against the World Bank and IMF!

Capitalism is unsustainable, it creates discontent, it kills the environment and it is characterized by constant financial crisis and implosions.

Unlike, say, socialism. Capitalism is actually entirely sustainable, because it is dynamic. What they mean by “sustainable” is “static”, which they see as a good thing.

Workers, who create the economy, are left unemployed with worthless retirement plans and few recourses when companies like Enron and WorldCom go under

Or when, say, all debt is eliminated by fiat (see above).

I don’t go seeking out this particular type of porn, so this is the first time in a while that I’ve seen rhetoric of this type. I realize now that what I had formerly taken for clever parody of far-lefties may actually not have been parody at all.

Posted by tino at 19:44 23.09.02
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Noticeably missing is the demand for the release of the editor of The Worker, who was framed-up on tax evasion charges. (Tino knows what I’m talking about.)

While I don’t hold the New Left in any greater contempt than I do the Neo Conservatives (or the Old Conservatives for that matter), what does appall me is that they should know better by now. When the Old Left came up with radical policies that ultimately failed, you could at least give them credit for trying something different. The New Left seems completely ignorant of history, economics, human psychology and popular opinion.

I’m all for being an iconoclast, but why do the demands of these freedom flighters sound like another attempted imposition of some nutty ideology that cannot find enough popular support to be achieved democratically?

In case you missed PBS’s excellent “Commanding Heights” mini-series, you can now watch the whole series online. Gives a great history of the battle of ideology in the 20th century, right up to the anti-globalists and 9/11. Recommended viewing.



Posted by: Eric at September 25, 2002 02:00 PM

What’s perhaps most disturbing about this ideologically bankrupt movement is that it seems to be a backlash against the status-quo without fully understanding what’s wrong with the system as it exists today.

The Green Party is seen at many an Ani DiFranco concert and Earth Day celebration as being the solution: make free enterprise pay for the mess it got us into. Pull apart the capitalist machine in the name of some yet-to-be-realized socialist utopia. A nation of college-aged motor-voters wants us to burn our crutches and get us all on walkers with green tennis balls at each corner in the name of social justice.

The question that has to be asked, I think, is: What does it take to restore sanity to the nation’s youth? Why does this insanity keep cropping up? What makes libertarian outreach inneffectual in this demographic?

Part of the answer, it seems to me, is the fact that the young still care about the environment, and probably always will. Libertarians need to do more to address this concern. The current plank doesn’t go much further than pointing out that private ownership and vested interest in future value is the best way to keep your yard clean. I think it needs to realize that the government needs to take an active role in protecting its citizens from the use of force whether it comes from a gun, the tailpipe of an uninsured Corvette-red Camaro or a smokestack.


Posted by: K. Gould at September 30, 2002 03:31 PM