TCS Daily

'Views of a Changing World'

By Radley Balko - September 8, 2003 12:00 AM

The World Trade Organization meets this week in Cancun, Mexico, and any time any organization with freer trade ambitions calls a high-profile get-together, you can expect the usual cadre of green-haired activists, 10-foot puppets, spontaneous drum bursts, and fervent protestations from self-appointed advocates for the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and, of course, the trees to crash the party.  Throw in the sunny, white sand beaches of Caribbean paradise, lax liquor laws, and a healthy spring break reputation, and it's a safe bet that every lefty idealist college kid and his girlfriend will find a way to head southward to express their respective outrage at the devastation wrought by world capitalism. 


In other words, this round of trade talks could get especially rowdy.


The zealous anti-globalization arguments are predictable:  Globalization imposes crass western commercialism on unwitting third world culture (not true). Free trade causes a "race to the bottom," whereby developing countries relax environmental standards to attract first world investment, which results in the devastation of the last remaining untouched wilderness (not true).  Free trade causes western manufacturers to bolt high labor standards in the west for sweatshop working conditions in the developing world (not entirely true, but even when true, not such a bad thing).


With this round of free trade negotiations, however, comes a study from the Pew Center for People and the Press that should prove devastating to the legitimacy of the claim that these protesters are moving for the best interests of the world's poor.


This past June, the Pew Global Attitudes Project released its 2003 worldwide survey, entitled "Views of a Changing World."  The study surveyed 38,000 people in 44 nations from every region on earth.  The remarkable conclusion:  The world's poor can't get enough of globalization.


When asked if "Growing trade and business ties are good for their country," the number of respondents answering "very good" or "somewhat good" totaled 95% in Nigeria, 96% in Ivory Coast, and 95% in Uganda.  In fact, the lowest favorable response in any African country came from Tanzania, still at 82%.  The numbers were similar in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.


When asked if cultural imports are "good" for their respective countries, young people in particular seemed to respond favorably in the developing world.  Eight-five percent of Russians, 65% of Bangladeshis, 89% of Guatemalans, 94% of Chinese, and even 60% of Egyptians aged 18-29 answered affirmatively. 


Even when respondents in the developing world saw conditions in their own countries "getting worse," a sizeable majority refused to blame globalization for their problems.  In fact, of all the countries where a majority of respondents said conditions in their respective country were deteriorating, none showed a majority of respondents putting globalization at fault.  The highest percentage blaming globalization came in Indonesia, at 44%.  Most others were in the teens.


When asked if the effects of globalization on a respondent's respective country were "bad" or "good," the results are similarly dramatic.  Eight of ten African countries and seven of eight Asian countries responded with "good" at rates better than 60%.  Five of eight Latin American countries had majority "good" responses.  Even in those regions that were less optimistic about globalization and trade, optimism reigned with younger respondents.  The youngest demographic was 30 percentage points more optimistic than the oldest demographic in Poland, 20 points higher in Russia.


Even more interesting (not to mention pertinent to the WTO talks) are developing world attitudes toward multinational corporations and, alternatively, to the anti-globalization protesters allegedly sticking up for the developing world.


Multinationals are viewed positively by at least a 70% majority in nine of ten African countries (the tenth, Angola stands at 69%), at least a 60% majority six of eight Latin American countries (the only country where they're viewed unfavorably is Argentina, where they understandably don't view anything favorable these days).  Six of eight Asian countries have majority-favorable views.  In Eastern Europe, only Poland and Russia have a majority negative view of multinationals.


Contrast that to world opinion of anti-globalization protesters.  All ten African countries view the protesters who claim to speak for them with majority-negative opinions.  In fact, in only two of ten African countries do positive views of them top 40%.  In Asia, six of seven countries surveyed view them negatively, and only in the Philippines do positive views crack 25% (there, for some reason, they're liked by 54% of respondents).  In Latin America, all eight countries have majority negative views of the anti-globalization movement, and in Eastern Europe, they don't crack 33% in any country.  Anti-globalization protesters are viewed most positively in Western Europe and North America -- they very cultures they blame for the problems in the rest of the world.


Finally, Pew asked respondents if "people are better off in a free market economy."  In all ten African countries, more respondents said yes than no.  The same for seven of the eight Asian countries questioned (particularly interesting:  the ratio in Vietnam was 95% yes, 4% no; in China, 70% yes, 29% no). 


These numbers also become all the more impressive when you look at the world's opinion on U.S. foreign policy and, in particular, its actions with respect to the war with Iraq.  There, views of the United States are overwhelmingly negative. 


So not only does the third world embrace trade, globalization and capitalism, it is also able to sever U.S. wealth, prosperity and capitalism -- which it likes --  from U.S. foreign policy -- which it doesn't.


The Pew study proves that either anti-globalization forces are misguided -- and globalization is good for the poor -- or that the poor don't know what's best for them, or at the very least are cursed with a nasty streak of masochism.


It's probably safe to say that the poor like globalization because the poor are benefiting from it.  And the data seems to back that assertion up.


Studies from scholars who have collected empirical data from third world economies show that where globalization has hit the third world hardest, the third world has shown the most immediate and dramatic signs of burgeoning economic stability.  Where multinationals have invested in the developing world, applicants far outpace available jobs, income far exceeds income in other parts of the country, and those who do work in the plants -- even under conditions unacceptable to western sensibilities -- are the envy of their communities.


·  University of Michigan Professor Linda Lim visited Nike factories in Indonesia and Vietnam in 2000 to see firsthand just how Nike was treating its third world workers.  Her findings?  In Vietnam, Nike factory workers earned roughly five times the country's minimum wage.  In Indonesia, roughly three times.  In her memo, Lim notes that her findings are consistent with existing scholarship, citing a study by University of Minnesota Prof. Paul Glewwe, which found per capita consumption in Vietnam to be twice as high among those who work in foreign-owned enterprises than those in the general population.


·  Edwin M. Graham of the Institute for International Economics notes in a 2000 paper that affiliates of U.S. multinationals pay, on average, double the local wage in low-income countries.


·  A report on Nike subcontractor firms in Vietnam and Indonesia by a graduate student group at Dartmouth College found that those working for Nike were able to generate discretionary income, raise overall living standards, and, unlike the alternative work available -- farming of shop-keeping -- enjoyed a steady, reliable source of income.


·  A 2002 study by Brookings Institution's Theodore Moran notes that a 2000 survey of footwear and apparel factory workers in Thailand found that 70% of workers regarded their wages as "fair," and 60% had begun to accumulate savings.


·  A 1998 study by Debapriya Bhattacharya for the Geneva International Labor Office reports that garment workers in foreign-owned factories in Bangladesh earn 25% more than the country's average per capita income.


All of these statistics are compiled in a paper published last year by Drusilla K. Brown of Tufts University and Alan V. Deardorff and Robert M. Stern of the University of Michigan. 


In general, the last thirty years have seen rapid, global, far-reaching increases in trade and commerce.  And the world has gotten less poor, and more prosperous as a result.  The poor love globalization, because globalization is good for the poor.


Yale University's David Dollar points out that from the beginning of human history onward, the number of extreme poor -- those living on less than $1 dollar per day -- has increased with human population.  The number of human beings living in extreme poverty has risen every year since the dawn of humanity.  Beginning in 1980, at the birth of real globalization, that number began to decline, for the first time ever.  Dollar notes that since 1980, the number of extreme poor has fallen by 200 million, even though the human population has increased by 1.8 billion.  That's a pretty remarkable proposition.  In twenty years, we were able to reverse a pattern that had remained consistent over thousands of years of history -- simply by allowing people to trade freely with another across international borders.


And the trend only grows stronger.  Swedish scholar Johan Norberg has written that in 1780, it took England 60 years to double its wealth.  In 1880, Sweden did it in 40 years.  In 1980, South Korea did in 10.  New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff writes that in the sweatshop-saturated Chinese province of Dongguan, you can measure the time it takes incomes to double in months, not years.


So when you see the idealists decrying globalization's effects on the poor next week, when you see them shouting angry slogans, torching flags, and cursing the very thought of capitalism, remember that they also happen to be far removed from the areas where globalization is most needed -- and wanted. 


If you want to know the real effect globalization is having on the world's poor, you only need to ask them.


TCS Daily Archives