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The mobilization over globalization Every age has its trends, and a signature characteristic of the early 21st century is hordes of mostly youthful protesters shuttling around the planet to demonstrate against anything that might spread our era's unprecedented prosperity to those who still live in poverty.

That's not how the protesters put it, of course. According to them, they're battling an insidious process called "globalization" that's apparently making the rich richer, the poor poorer, polluting our water, spoiling our milk and performing a host of other nefarious functions.

I say "apparently" because there is no clear definition of globalization. But as protesters appear at meetings of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, trade summits and conferences of the leaders of industrialized nations, it's clear that they oppose what they perceive as the evils of the free-market system. Specifically, they don't seem to like markets that cross international borders.

There's a certain irony, of course, in pointing to gatherings of politicians and international apparatchiks and labeling them as representatives of unrestricted markets for products and capital.

Whether free economies are good or bad for the world, they have little to do with deals cut between governments.

But free markets are good for the world. One thing that has grown increasingly clear over the years is that the free flow of goods, services, capital and ideas enhances prosperity. And among those who benefit the most from the various facets of globalization are those just beginning their climb up the economic ladder.

According to Doug Bandow, a Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute: The latest volume of the Economic Freedom in the World Report, published by the Cato Institute and think tanks in 50 other countries, finds that economic liberty strongly correlates with economic achievement. Policies that open economies strongly correlate with economic growth.

In a speech to Australia's Centre for Independent Studies, Anne Krueger, Director of Stanford University's Center for Research on Economic Development and Policy Reform, emphasized the same point. She reminded her audience that the relatively free flow of money and goods "has permitted the transformation of poor, developing economies such as Korea and Taiwan into industrial economies with relatively high standards of living within a space of 30-40 years." Krueger also emphasized that the demand for democracy and accountable government rises with prosperity. The unrestrained flow of goods and money leads to increasingly free and open political institutions as a direct result of greater wealth.

But if you check out their arguments on the (ironically) border-less, international medium of the World Wide Web, it's that free flow itself that upsets some protesters. StopFTAA.org complains that free trade "allows corporations to bypass democratically adopted environmental or worker protection laws..." CorpWatch.org demands "mechanisms to exert more democratic control over the transnational corporations whose activities are at the root of so many problems." Anti-globalization activists complain that investors and businesses can skate with comparative ease across today's borders to evade taxes and regulations that they dislike. In doing so, they reduce the power of governments to manage their countries' economies.

But is that necessarily a bad thing? In a paper prepared for Britain's Institute of Economic Affairs, Jean-Luc Migue acknowledged the wealth-building effect of globalization, then went one to add that: What is less evident in public debates is a second, no less far-reaching contribution of freer trade, namely its role in minimising political coercion in society and promoting the advancement of human liberty.

How's that? Well, porous borders allow exactly what anti-globalization protesters fear: They force governments to compete with one another to retain investors and entrepreneurs. That's because people are free to abandon jurisdictions with restrictive policies in search of cozier climes.

When emigrants cross borders, it's called "voting with your feet." There's no difference for money and business. Those who oppose open borders find themselves in the same situation as the old Soviet bloc commissars who erected fences and guard towers to keep their people at home.

So globalization helps to make people more wealthy and nations more free. Who could oppose these things? Undoubtedly, many protesters are along for the ride out of ignorance. They focus on the bogeyman of capitalism and ignore the proven threat posed by governments with captive populations held within sealed borders.

But some of globalization's foes know exactly what they're doing.

In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Kendra Okonski of the International Policy Network traced the brains and wallets behind the surprisingly well-organized anti-globalization movement. She discovered that the protests are coordinated by labor unions and socialist foundations, and that "much of the money that fuels the antiglobalization protests against intergovernmental meetings is provided by many of those same governments." The foundations to which Okonski refers are ideological opponents of free markets and open borders. Labor unions, as is often the case, fear dynamic forces that might erode their clout while empowering individuals (for that matter, many old-line corporations also fear competition). And governments disapprove of the loss of revenue and power that occurs when people, money and businesses are free to move to where they are most welcome.

In the end, then, anti-globalization protesters, no matter what they claim, are engaged in battle against freedom. What they seek to cut off is the ability of people to cross borders in search of prosperity and liberty. Migrants have long risked their lives to do exactly that. The modern world of easy transport and communication means that people, with their assets and businesses, have more options than ever in pursuing opportunity around the world.

Yes, globalization allows people to evade restrictive government policies. But contrary to the claims of protesters, that can be a good thing.

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