The protesters in the streets of Seattle last November and in Washington earlier this month had a point. Informed global citizens should be concerned about environmental degradation, working conditions in Third World factories and human rights in China. But they were wrong on two counts.
First, to blame the vast majority of the world's ills on increased interactions between residents of different countries - the essence of globalization - represents a gross oversimplification.Poverty, inequality, poor working conditions and environmental degradation all existed before the recent expansion of the global economy. In fact, many of these problems have been lessened through global integration; the number of people in East Asia living on less than a dollar a day, for example, has roughly halved over the past decade as this region has integrated into the global economy and experienced rapid growth.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the solution advocated by these protesters - withdrawal from the global economy and a return to local or national markets - will not solve the problems they identify. Nor will it address the fundamental economic insecurity that is driving much of the concern here in the United States.
Rather than forging alliances with anti-capitalists on the left and nationalist forces on the right, progressives concerned about expanding the benefits of economic growth as widely as possible should embrace a new approach to globalization.
This involves three elements:
* Get the message right.
Integration into the global economy - more trade, more investment, more Web sites - benefits ordinary working people. Expanded commerce creates economic growth, raising living standards and generating resources to protect the environment.
An estimated one-third of today's booming economic growth rate is being driven by increased trade. Similarly, jobs dependent on exports pay on average 13 percent to 16 percent higher than average wages.
Trade involves imports as well as exports - which benefit working people through greater choice and lower prices. One recent estimate suggests that the recent phase of worldwide tariff reductions has increased the income of a typical American family of four by $1,500 to $3,000 a year.
And trade is not just done by big corporations - 96 percent of U.S. exporters are small and medium-sized companies, the mom-and-pop farms and businesses.
In sum, expanded trade and economic integration lowers barriers and increases opportunity.
* Advance an agenda to deal with economic insecurity.
The wave of economic change being driven partly by globalization - though mostly by rapid technological change - is resulting in widespread economic insecurity and fear of the future. One recent poll showed that workers are more afraid of losing their job today than at the height of the recession of the early 1990s, when unemployment was at 8 percent, almost double today's level.
We need a package of new policies to address the needs of workers in this new economy and empower them to benefit from the opportunities it provides. This should include widespread access to portable pensions and health-care benefits, lifelong access to education and retraining for multiple career paths and methods to help workers build financial security (savings accounts for education and training and support for building other financial assets) to mention but a few.
Without such tools, many individuals will be marginalized by economic progress and the backlash against the global economy will only continue to grow.
* Support strong, effective international institutions.
We need a rules-based international economy, with institutions in place to set, monitor and enforce those rules. It is difficult to see how poor developing countries would be better off without a World Trade Organization to hear their complaints and enforce global trade rules, often against the wishes of powerful trading partners.
Similarly, how would poor countries, largely marginalized from international capital markets, be better off without loans and other finance from institutions such as the World Bank?
Yet we need to do more. Global environmental problems need new and tougher multilateral environmental agreements. The International Labor Organization needs to be strengthened and reformed so it can uphold and enforce its core international labor standards. The World Trade Organization needs to become more transparent and accept input from all interested parties, including nongovernmental organizations.
And these international institutions need to work together to achieve their differing, but mutually supportive, objectives.
In sum, progressives should embrace globalization as a source of opportunity. At the same time, we need to design new domestic policies and global institutions to deal with the economic change global integration brings and expand the circle of those benefiting.
If we don't, the backlash against globalization will grow, threatening the unprecedented prosperity and opportunity that today's global economy offers.