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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Tom Friedman on Cancun

Friedman's column says the collapse of the trade talks in Cancun is bad for the US war on terrorism. I'm doubtful that this is a way to sell free trade politically.

There is some logical appeal to Friedman's argument, to be sure. The problem is that a lot of people reject out of hand the notion that poverty causes terrorism, which they equate with justifying the actions of the terrorists, a big no-no. Friedman is nuanced on this, to be fair, but it is the essence of his argument:

"Sure, poverty doesn't cause terrorism — no one is killing for a raise. But poverty is great for the terrorism business because poverty creates humiliation and stifled aspirations and forces many people to leave their traditional farms to join the alienated urban poor in the cities — all conditions that spawn terrorists."

As Friedman well knows, though, his critics will point out that several of the 9/11 hijackers came from relatively well-off families and had college educations. Maybe they were ashamed at the poverty of their countries or regions, but they were not direly poor themselves, by and large.

I appreciate that Tom is trying to make the case for multilateral trade liberalization, which the world really does need. However, I would much rather see an influential voice in US foreign policy like Friedman do the sensible thing by arguing for free trade on its own merits.

UPDATE: Ron Brownstein writes that the Democrats running for president aren't helping the free trade cause either. I'm afraid we'll hear lots of protectionist rhetorical BS in their debate Thursday afternoon.