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World Bank protest fizzles

October 03, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

Editor's Note: Tim Rowland is on vacation. While he's away, favorite columns from the past will run on Tuesdays and Thursdays in The Morning Herald. This column first ran on April 19, 2000.

Sad to say, but my World Bank protest didn't work out exactly as I'd hoped.

I went to D.C. loaded for bear, with plenty of signs and banners decrying those outrageous ATM fees and, well, boy was my face red.

I've always believed I would have made a good protester, but I was too late for the Vietnam War '60s and too early for world hunger/rain forest '80s.

When I came along, the Baby Boom had petered out and Generation X had yet to raise its ugly head before plopping it back down because it was too much, like, work.

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About the only thing we ever championed was wiping out world disco. Aside from that, we didn't really care.

So now, in an attempt to reclaim opportunities lost in youth, I'm trying to work up a good, self-righteous froth over the International Monetary Fund. But sorry, no can do.

First, just the thought that Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot are all opposed to something gives me reason to support it, even if I don't know what it does, which I don't.

Near as I can tell, the World Bank takes money from rich countries and gives or loans it to developing countries to help them develop.

Sort of a global cross between J.P. Morgan and Robin Hood.

Selfishness plays a part in my apathy here. Unless the World Bank takes money from rich countries and gives it to me to help pay off my Visa bill, I see little personal effect one way or the other.

My other problem is that the arguments against the IMF aren't exactly what I'd call focused. Half the opponents are mad that the struggling countries aren't repaying their loans. The other half is protesting that the struggling countries are being made to repay their loans.

Half the protesters believe the IMF is being used to create too many sweatshops and ecologically disastrous dams overseas. The other half say the United States should be keeping its money at home, so we can create sweatshops and ecologically disastrous dams for our own people here at home.

Like any good fiscal analyst, anytime I have a question about macroeconomics or large scale monetary policy, I try to figure it out by relating it to Monopoly.

You know the guy who always buys on the cheap and balks at spending his cash on big-budget enterprises like the yellows and the greens? That's Bolivia.

And the guy who always seems to roll doubles and gets a block of three adjoining deeds before anyone else has even managed to put together a railroad or a utility? That's the United States.

What the World Bank does is take the Free Parking money and magnanimously give it to Bolivia so it can buy a Water Works or put up a couple shacks on Baltic and Mediterranean. Depending on your perspective, this is either a waste - throwing good money after bad, money the United States could have used to build hotels - or it is a pitifully small and unproductive amount that won't keep Bolivia from getting crushed in the end anyway.

Enter the protesters.

My friend Guy blames the death of Jerry Garcia. While the Grateful Dead was still touring, his theory goes, this collection of stragglers was occupied following that tie-dyed band across the country. This diversion lost, they've turned their attention to world affairs. Now they follow the World Bank structural meetings across the nation, protesting instead of dancing. But the net result is that they get arrested, so it's all sort of the same in the end.

"They're just kids with a cause, God bless 'em," said the Washington D.C., police chief, somewhat patronizingly, I thought.

Because at least people with a cause are people who are vigilant, and when an organization knows it's being watched it's less likely, when nobody's looking, to make off with the Community Chest.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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