All Commentary
Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Antiglobalists Are Scarce in Poor Countries

Affluent Protesters Miss the Mark

Whenever some international conference on world trade takes place, without fail the organized forces of antiglobalization appear outside the gates. They whine; they protest; they frequently riot and attack. If you ask them, they’ll tell you that what they do is justified because they represent the world’s poor.

Rarely are the protesters themselves poor. They tend to come from wealthy nations, born to families that are better off than the people for whom they claim to speak. Their critics contend that they don’t represent the poor at all, but are more in tune with the political fashions among the affluent of the world. Now a continuing poll of world opinion backs this up.

The Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed some 66,000 people in 44 nations.* Generally the results have been met with much interest. But the antiglobalization movement itself is rather unhappy, and for good reason.

The populations of the poorest nations support globalization to a greater extent than do those of the wealthiest nations. The survey noted that: “Only one-in-ten Americans and Canadians (10%, 11%) characterize globalization as a very good thing, and fewer Europeans agree. By comparison, nearly six-in-ten in Nigeria (58%), and more than four-in-ten in Kenya (46%), Uganda (44%) and South Africa (41%) see globalization as a very good thing” (p. 85). Only Jordan has a majority that says globalization is bad.

It is true that in all 44 nations a majority of people said globalization is either “somewhat good” or “very good.” But those who see globalization as “very good” are significantly more likely to come from poorer nations.

Even with contentious “cultural” issues, majorities, especially among the young, see globalization as good. And most agree that they have better selections of foods and medicines as a result. When antiglobalization forces target fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s, it again appears they reflect the values of the world’s economic elites. Germans, by a six-to-one margin, think that fast food has a negative effect on their lives. In Canada and the United States significant margins share the German view. But more than seven out of ten in the Philippines, Vietnam, and China, give fast food thumbs up.

“Commercialism” and “consumerism” are further favorite targets of the antiglobalists. And while 63 percent of the French say both are threats to their culture, the poorest countries, on the whole, don’t see it that way. The survey reports that this criticism is not prevalent “in the Middle East/Conflict Area. Majorities in Lebanon (64%), Uzbekistan (57%) and Jordan (54%) say commercialism is no threat to their culture. Pluralities in Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan agree” (p. 88). In Vietnam 66 percent say commercialism doesn’t threaten their culture. In Nigeria it’s 65 percent, and in Angola it’s 56 percent.

Multinationals Not Unpopular

Multinational corporations are another favorite target of the antiglobalists. Again this is at odds with the views of the world’s poor. The survey reports: “In 33 out of 43 countries in which the question was asked, majorities think that foreign corporations have a generally positive influence on their countries. Majorities in every African country surveyed say major foreign companies have a good influence” (p. 97). The survey also notes that: “Dislike of foreign firms is mostly limited to people in the major advanced economies of Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada” (p. 11).

Once again anti-globalist attitudes are more in tune with those of the wealthy and well-off. For instance, 93 percent of Vietnamese and 78 percent of South Africans view multinationals favorably, while only half of Americans and French do. What is particularly ironic is that in every nation surveyed, multinationals have more favorable support than the antiglobalists do themselves.

Support for international markets tends to indicate support for domestic economic freedom as well. A majority in 33 of the nations surveyed agreed that people are better off with free markets. The highest level of support was found among the residents of Vietnam, ostensibly a socialist state, where 95 percent agreed. And while the United States is often seen as being the most “free market” country in terms of ideological support, in fact the free market has higher levels of support in Lebanon, Vietnam, South Korea, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Uganda, and South Africa.

The antiglobalists have denounced world capitalism and domestic free markets. They claim to do so on behalf of the world’s poor. But it appears that globally most people disagree with them—most especially the poor themselves.

  • Jim Peron is the author of Exploding Population Myths (Heartland Institute). He is executive director of the Institute for Liberal Values in Johannesburg, South Africa.