Prague, 17 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The fight against globalization and the dramatic decline in the stock markets are at the top of the agenda in today's Western press commentary. The visit of Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin to London also attracts some attention.
Commentaries in The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal Europe offer some ideas on how to counter the arguments of anti-globalization protestors, thousands of whom are gathered in Washington this week at meetings of the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. Commentators argue that defenders of globalization must explain that there is more at stake than just economics.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Today's protestors are marching against free trade
In The Wall Street Journal Europe, two writers from The Economist magazine, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, compare the current battle against globalization to the protests in Britain some150 years ago. "But with one important difference," they write. "Today's protestors are marching against free trade; the marchers of the 1840s were in favor of it."
They write that the protestors of the last century won their fight because they linked their cause to justice, and not economics. "Free trade marched hand in hand with the freedom to make up your own mind and the freedom to exercise your "heaven-made genius." Opposition to globalization, they say, persists because its proponents have failed to explain how globalization brings justice. Leaders must show how trade can help all parties, Micklethwait and Wooldridge write. In their words: "Business leaders are forever asking people like coal miners and steel workers to bear the burdens of globalization, while conveniently forgetting professionals, like accountants or lawyers -- both of whom hide behind nontariff barriers. ... Politicians support trade only in the form of good exports, not wicked imports. This is not only economically illiterate," the writers assert, "it also encourages the myth, repeated on the banners in Washington this week, that trade is a zero-sum game, where somebody has to lose for others to win."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Globalization promises to enrich our humanity
Los Angeles Times commentator Michael Elliott writes that those who believe in globalization should point out that it can enrich peoples' lives in ways that go far beyond economics. He writes: "Prosperity is a wonderful thing: It means an Asian family who used to swelter in the tropical heat can afford a fan and, maybe, one day, the air-conditioning that Angelenos take for granted. But we do not measure ourselves solely by dollars and cents and what they can buy," Elliott writes. He continues: "For the true promise of globalization is not that it makes us more wealthy, but that it enriches our humanity. It enables us to try new food, explore other people's religions, visit places our parents could only dream about. In my case, literally: My mother died without ever having flown in an airplane."
Turning to the economy, commentaries are divided on what caused the sudden drop in major stock market values and whether it will do any damage in the long term.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The new economy is powerful
Writing in the Wall Street Journal Europe, John Browning and Spencer Reiss of the newsletter New Economy Watch ask whether the sudden drop in the Nasdaq index of top technology stocks means the end of the so-called "new economy." They conclude that, far from being the end, the drop signals the end of the first phase in the development of the new economy.
"The new economy is powerful because it saves money and time, boosts productivity, and creates better products and services," they write. "That will be true in bull market or bear, hard times or flush. If the Nasdaq really does collapse in an exhausted heap, is there any doubt that the first person to rise up out of the ashes will have a business plan that exploits wireless networks? Or that he will have any trouble finding backers who can scrape together a million bucks for the 'fiber-optic Intel' or 'the next Yahoo!'? And we'll be off again."
NEW YORK TIMES: Brokers and financial planners can potentially provide historic perspective
Analyses in the New York Times and Washington Post are less optimistic. Ron Chernow, writing in the New York Times, blames the meteoric rise in stock market values on amateur investors, who were lured to the market through the Internet. As a result, he says, the bubble in stock values is more volatile and hazardous than ever. As he puts it: "Adding further worry is that many high-flying companies lack any pretense of profitability -- a small defect that would have deprived them of a decent stock market listing before the 1970s."
However, Chernow says there is a way out of the current problems -- a return to an old-style market managed by professionals. "While brokers and financial planners are scarcely saints and have contributed to past bubbles, they can, potentially, provide historic perspective to temper the wilder excesses of new investors," he writes. "Perhaps if the Nasdaq continues to tumble, professional expertise will actually come back into vogue, and the dull imperatives of profit and loss will again govern stock prices."
WASHINGTON POST: The global economy will also suffer if values continue to drop
An editorial in The Washington Post argues that there seems little good reason for the drop in stock market values. But it warns that if values continue to drop, the global economy will also suffer. In the Post's words: "If stocks continue to head downward, start-up companies will find it hard to raise money, and many will go bust. The impact could be painful beyond Wall Street, and beyond Silicon Valley, too. Some workers will lose jobs, others will lose savings that they had invested in the market." The editorial notes: "A deceleration lately has seemed inevitable. The American economy has been growing roughly twice as fast as most experts believe sustainable; either a sustained bear market would put the brakes on, or the Federal Reserve would endeavor to do so. A question, in either case, is whether the system can avoid excessive braking."
Editorials in British and Irish newspapers look favorably on the visit of Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin today to London. On his first trip to the West since being elected, Putin will meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and take tea with Queen Elizabeth.
TIMES: This is a rare chance to influence Russian policy
An editorial in The Times, London, notes that although there are risks in welcoming Putin in Britain so early in his mandate, the potential rewards justify the visit. "The West rarely has a chance to influence Russian policy; this is one," The Times writes. "Mr. Blair must find ways to engage his enthusiasm and fire his imagination, while leaving him in no doubt that Russian respect for human rights, particularly in Chechnya, is essential for a flourishing partnership. He needs also to open up the question of Kosovo, whose future status must at some point be resolved. The legal limbo in which international efforts at reconstruction now operate badly hobbles progress. Here Russian co-operation is essential." The Times continues: "So too is Russian agreement if the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is to be modified. Other areas for discussion include organized crime, commercial piracy, nuclear safety and Russia's many environmental disaster areas."
IRISH TIMES: In the end Putin is a man with whom the West can do business
The Irish Times also praises Putin, particularly for his success in convincing the Russian Duma to ratify START-2 after years of delay. Echoing Margaret Thatcher's comment about Mikhail Gorbachev, the Irish Times says: "Mr. Putin may have been a spy, his pursuit of the war in Chechnya may have been brutal, but in the end, he is a man with whom the West can do business. The ratification by the Russian Duma of the START-2 strategic arms reduction treaty is a measure not only of Mr Putin's pragmatism but also of his ability to get parliament to accept legislation put forward by the Kremlin."