The wrong way to exercise a right

D.C. protests: Aim to disrupt IMF, World Bank is both arrogant and destructive.

April 14, 2000

THOSE FOLKS who mounted a peaceful protest against the World Trade Organization in Seattle were torpedoed last December by others who wanted a ruckus that would cause the most damage and call attention to themselves.

Seattle took a pasting. People who had nothing to do with the WTO were the chief victims.

Unhappily, the demonstrations looming in Washington for this weekend's spring meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, attracting the world's leading finance ministers, central bankers and commercial bankers, take Seattle as a model.

Demonstrations of viewpoint occur in Washington every day. That's fine.

But the tone of these demonstrators is one of absolute certainty of the simplicity to which they reduce complex economic issues. This is combined with blanket intolerance for deviations from their view and indifference to who or what gets hurt.

Workers in the area, students at George Washington University nearby, anyone who doesn't have to be in the vicinity -- all are being warned to stay out. The neighborhood is being closed down.

Although the demonstrators purport to speak for the world's poor -- who did not appoint them -- the World Bank and IMF with good reason believe that their own policies help the world's poor. The institutions' economic judgments may certainly be challenged. But so may the demonstrators'.

In fact, the demonstrators do not speak for the world's poor but for themselves. Their arrogance surpasses even that of IMF top bureaucrats.

They have a right to make their views known, but none to infringe the rights of others who share the quarter between the White House and the Watergate Hotel with the world financial institutions. They have no charter to impede the work of the IMF and World Bank.

The finance ministers and central bankers could do with a little humility. The same goes for those folks who confer on themselves the right to shut down anyone they consider the villain du jour.

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