They Riot Against You

You may be wondering by now exactly what the labor, environmental, and nationalist groups attacking the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle are really protesting.

The answer, I’m afraid, is you.

When a b2b site gives Chinese factories instant access to New York buyers, American garment workers lose their jobs. When Brazilian steel makers find they can compete directly with Pittsburgh using the Internet (ignoring non-existent pollution laws in their own country) the air there gets dirtier. When tariff or tax moratoriums are imposed for e-commerce, and worldwide rules are created for your convenience, national authority is undermined.

Many technologies have combined to create this New World Order, and we are their avatars. I have friends and correspondents in places like Indonesia, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Brazil and even Vietnam. They’re creating new, faster ways of doing more international trade, and shaking their governments to the foundation. Every time costs are driven out of business purchasing, labor worldwide becomes more directly competitive, and (yes) jobs are lost as a result.

Everything in the WTO benefits you personally. Lower tariffs, faster arbitration of disputes, and binding procedures are all designed to save you money and protect your interests. This angers nationalists, who lose tariff protection for local industry. (Is WTO another NAFTA? You may want to hope it is.) Labor and environmental standards remain “local” (read national) issues under the WTO, and this angers other protestors.

What we’re seeing in Seattle is just a taste of what’s to come. Rapid change threatens many people, and when they find their own governments are powerless to stop change (because of an international agreement like WTO) violence can be expected. But technology set this in motion. Our technology made this kind of trade possible, made this kind of agreement necessary. It’s our work that’s being done in Seattle.

The point today is it’s time you stood up and said so. Those who win money and power in life’s lottery also draw responsibility, and frankly most of us have forgotten that. Instead, we’ve passed the heavy lifting on to consultants and politicians. We act like it’s their contracts or their power that’s on the line in these disputes.

But it’s really ours. We in the e-commerce space are doing precious little to defend the WTO. We’re not explaining its benefits on TV, or in the newspapers, and calling its opponents what they are – Luddites.

We need to ask those who might oppose WTO some hard questions. Do you really want your kids sewing clothes for a living? Do you want foreigners controlling our labor rights, and our environmental standards? Isn’t it just common sense that, if we’re to start down the road to a world government, we start with rules of business, contracts and money – ties that truly bind?

The Internet, and related technologies, made this one world. The WTO sets rules for how commerce will be protected in that world. It deserves your support and deserves your defense. Its opponents deserve to be confronted, not by hard-hatted police, but by you.

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