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The 3 personalities of Seattle

Every year at the World Economic Forum there is a star or theme that stands out. The star of Davos 2000 was, without question, Seattle. Seattle was talked about everywhere. The only problem was that the business and government leaders here were actually talking about three different Seattles _ the Seattle that is afraid of the future, the Seattle that is demanding a slice of the future and the Seattle that is building the future.

All three were at play here, and it is important not to forget that, because there are some activists and politicians who want you to believe there is only one Seattle that counts _ the Seattle of protesters against trade and globalization and the World Trade Organization, who trashed Seattle in November. Nonsense.

Yes, the Seattle of the backlash against globalization is real. This backlash was spearheaded, and financed, by the AFL-CIO, the steelworkers and dockworkers, who oppose more free trade because it means a churning of jobs. Alongside these unions in the streets of Seattle were many serious environmentalists, who are legitimately concerned about what more trade means for turtles and trees. But the environmentalists and the unions _ and the stone-throwing anarchists who joined them _ are not organic allies with a shared agenda. (God save any turtle that gets in the way of the dockworkers unloading a boat. You wouldn't want to be that turtle.)

The unions that drove this first Seattle want you to think that they represent the world and the poor and that they are all rising against free trade. Oh, really? Africa is begging to increase its textile exports to the United States, and the AFL-CIO is blocking the African trade initiative. Why? Because Africa might increase its share of total U.S. textile imports from its current level of 0.8 percent. The notion that this first Seattle represents all the downtrodden is a pure fraud.

Just ask the second Seattle. This was the Seattle of the populous developing countries _ India, Mexico, China _ that know the reason they have all grown so fast lately is because of trade and foreign investment. They came to Seattle not to wreck the WTO but to get a better deal from it, and they resent the protesters who want to keep them out by imposing impossible labor and environmental standards. Mexico's president, Ernesto Zedillo, denounced these "globophobics _ a curious alliance of forces from the extreme left, environmentalists and other self-appointed critics in a common endeavor to save the people of developing countries from development."

Egypt's economy minister, Youssef Boutros-Ghali, who was in Seattle, said: "The world was not represented on the streets of Seattle.

"The truth is, most of the world's population was inside the conference room in Seattle, not outside. It was developing countries, like us, who want a fairer share of the pie, not to destroy the pie. I can't grow unless I integrate with the global economy, but the trade rules by the developed countries are unfair. We open to you, but you don't open to us."

The third Seattle was the Seattle of, Microsoft and the Internet revolution. This high-tech Seattle is creating an enormous number of jobs and has captured the imagination of youth all over the world, but it has also terrified every chief executive officer. Internet commerce has been described as "Darwinism on steroids." And John Chambers, head of Cisco Systems, unnerved a packed hall in Davos of business execs from Europe and the developing world by telling them that survival in such a world required radical restructuring and moving their companies online _ from customer service, to relations with suppliers, to in-house education. If you haven't started yet, Chambers said, it's probably too late. You're soon to be road kill.

As I said, there are three Seattles _ those who want to slow down the world so they can get off, those who want to slow down the world so they can get on, and those who want to speed up the world so they can stay ahead. Can they live together? Only if there is real dialogue and hard trade-offs, and only if there is a recognition that the moral high ground isn't the monopoly of just one Seattle.

+ Thomas L. Friedman is a New York Times columnist. +

New York Times News Service