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Daily Reckoning Australia on the Scene at the G20 Summit in Melbourne, Australia

On Saturday 18 November 2006 we ventured into the Central Business District of Melbourne to observe the ‘chaos’ surrounding the G20 summit. It’s amazing how freely people will speak when you point a cheap digital camera in their face, and ask them to tell the world what they think.

Our video coverage follows…

An introduction:


(simply click on the video box to play… some may have to click twice)

 

Neo-liberalism: The first clip is with a man who was protesting with a small group of people. They are pictured here. Being interested in commodities myself, I thought I’d see what they had to say. Plus, I had read the term “neoliberalism” on the website of a group organizing the more peaceful aspect of the anti-G20 gathering and wanted to see if they could tell me what they meant by it, and G20_1.jpgwhy they were opposed to it, or what they’d offer in its place.

By the way, this attempt to redefine the debate seems like a good to me, but a miserable failure in the execution. That is, defining what a word means is a key part of any debate, especially a public policy debate. If you can get someone to accept your definition, you have successfully shaped the “battle space of ideas.”  

If you want just one example, think of the debate over abortion. Are you “pro life” or “pro choice?” Both terms are designed to shape the debate in favour of a particular point of view. The argument is advanced, and often won, when you can force your opponents to accept your definitions, at least that’s what my professor of classical rhetoric used to say in University.

But the cardinal rule of rhetoric is to “know your audience.” And frankly, if you’re trying to win a public policy debate about economics, you’re going to have to come up with something a lot better than “neo-liberalism.”   For someone to be opposed to neo-liberalism, they have to know what classical liberalism is. And outside the ivory tower and economic circles, not many people use that language to describe the economy we live in and the institutions that shape and govern it.

For more on classical liberalism, go here. And if you’re really really interested, try The Road to Serfdom by Friederich Hayek. It’s a great start.

As for the points this gentleman makes, well I won’t dispute them point by point. He was civil and articulate, which is more than can be said of a lot critics of globalisation. I do disagree fundamentally that world trade organizations are about “increasing the wealth of the rich.” The rich do get richer when the world trades more. But everyone gets richer.


(simply click on the video box to play… some may have to click twice)

 

Everyone does not get richer at the same pace, which is what seems to bother many political activists. The visible signs of affluence and poverty highlight the inequality, and give it a moral as well as physical aspect. It is one of the striking things about a free society than great wealth and poverty exist side by side, each fully visible to the other.

The underlying reality is that we live in a culture in which the average standard of living is getting incrementally better, even if there is an enormous difference between the very wealthy and the very poor. The poor are less poor than any poor at any time in the history of the world. But symbols of wealth are used to vilify the wealth and symbols of poverty are used as justifications for confiscating wealth.

That’s the thing about symbols. They are powerful, even if they mis-represent the underlying economic reality. And as the first gentlemen I interviewed  suggests, what he’s really after is “another way or organizing things.” This is code, I think, for “I want things to be organized the way I think they should be organized instead of the way they have evolved.”

A major principle of the free market is that you have order with an orderer, or, in the context of this debate, organization without an organizer. Of course, there must be a modicum of organization for markets to function. Contract must be honored. The value of money must be reliable. And the law—the general conditions under which commerce is conducted and lives are lived—must be transparent, impartial, and not favour any particular faction or interest group.

But when the general framework of the law is present, markets work, and they tend to work a lot better than governments. You don’t need to build a “bridge to the future,” funded by the government. Someone, day by day, we keep getting to the future without an elaborate government plan to do so.

That isn’t to say there is no role for governments (defence being the main one.) And heck, in a democracy, people can decide to do virtually any crazy old thing they want.  But the less large governments do and the more local governments do, the healthier the democracy and the less prone it will be to governments sponsored theft and violence.

That’s what I would have said if I’d been debating. But I wasn’t. So there you go. By the way, off camera, two of these people said they supported the destruction of private property as a form of protest or political action, provided it was “targeted” and “legitimate.”

As far as I know, there are very few circumstances under any law where it’s okay to destroy other people’s property, regardless of what you think the justice of your cause is. The only people who support it, generally, are those who do not believe in private property at all. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a society where people can legally and subjectively determine when it’s okay to use force to destroy someone’s property.

It is precisely in defense against this kind of mob-like war of all-against-all that basic property rights were instituted in the first place, to protect people from their government and the arbitrary force of their neighbour.

But again, it would have been hard to have that kind of reasoned argument in the middle of a mob.

Indymedia: The second interview I did with a thoughtful member of Melbourne’s Indymedia. I’d wandered over to an intersection with a bunch of debris and the busted-out windscreen on a large police truck. I asked the police nearby if they could tell me what had happened. They declined and said I’d have to speak to a public affairs spokesperson.

I didn’t get his name. In principle, I agreed with his desire to independently document what was going on. He didn’t really have much to add. And it’s hard for me to see how a person can be pacifist in principle, but exceptions when it seems convenient. That seems…well, either inconsistent, or unprincipled.


(simply click on the video box to play… some may have to click twice)

 

Another side note, there were almost more people recording the “protesters” with various digital devices than there were protestors protesting. This is, I think a good thing. On the one hand, there is a very public record of what went on. This means the criminals will be easier to identify, as well as any abuse by the cops.

To be honest, the cops, at least the ones I saw, were pretty accommodating. They let themselves be pushed all the way back down the street towards their truck. The protestors were goading them. And it was the protestors who started throwing things at attacking the police vehicle. The cops, on the other hand, were pretty restrained, which seems like the right course of action. Let these people protest on public streets, and when they start breaking stuff, they’ve broken the law too. Arrest them.

A Public Spectacle: No comment really necessary here. It does show you that crowds are influenced at the margin too, like markets. What you see is most people milling about watching the spectacle unfold. Then, at those odd places where an angry protester comes into contact with a nervous cop, the contact ensues and the entire dynamic can change—all based on quite literally a marginal contact.


(simply click on the video box to play… some may have to click twice)

 

But we shouldn’t be surprised that the tone of the these things is set at the margin. It is the marginal participant (socially, emotionally, psychologically) who pushes these kinds of things forward. What’s amazing is that a crowd can become a mob so quickly, passing through the tipping point before many people realize what they’ve gotten into.

Luckily, there was literally not a large enough “critical mass” here to lead to a bigger fight, although I’m sure that’s just what some people wanted. And frankly, that was pretty clear with all the groups near the Hyatt. While some were interested in getting out a message, the hardcore group that showed up was interested in conflict and destruction. It’s a compliment to Melbournians and Australians that so few people took up the cause.

Gordon: I found Gordon in Alexandra gardens while I was looking for the Carnival Beyond Capitalism and the Really Really Free Market the organizers had promised, the one with no prices.

You can’t tell from this video, but Gordon gets around in an electric scooter with a little Chihuahua (named Spooky) at his feet. He is paralyzed from the waist on down. But his mind works just fine. So I asked him if he’d make a few comments for me.

He identified a basic split with the protest groups. There were the “destroyers” over in the CBD. And here were the people who were trying, in some creative way, to present an alternative.


(simply click on the video box to play… some may have to click twice)

 

To be honest, the alternative was no more compelling to me than the violence was convincing. But at least no one was breaking anything. The worst that happened was some bad juggling and enthusiastic dancing. The obligatory drum circle banged away in the background and the sparse crowd enjoyed the green grass and fair trade coffee.

And last but not least… Send in the Clowns….


(simply click on the video box to play… some may have to click twice)

 

Dan Denning
Dan Denning is the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Reckoning Australia and the author of 2005’s best-selling The Bull Hunter (John Wiley & Sons). He began his financial publishing career in 1997 as a small-cap analyst. From 2000 to 2005 he was the managing editor of Strategic Investment, where he recommended gold and warned of the US housing bubble. Dan has covered financial markets from Baltimore, Paris, London and, beginning in 2005, Melbourne Australia, where he is the Publisher of Port Phillip Publishing. To follow Dan's financial world view more closely you can subscribe to The Daily Reckoning for free here. If you’re already a Daily Reckoning subscriber, then we recommend you also join him on Google+. It's where he shares investment research, commentary and ideas that he can't always fit into his regular Daily Reckoning emails.

6 Comments

  1. John Wilkes says:

    “As far as I know, there are very few circumstances under any law where it’s okay to destroy other people’s property, regardless of what you think the justice of your cause is.”

    If I was an Iraqi, a Serb, an Afghan, a Palestinian or Lebanese I think that I would be surprised to hear an American say something like that.

  2. Greg Weilo says:

    Dan,

    From what I’ve read, Bill Bonner might disagree with your statement that “The rich do get richer when the world trades more. But everyone gets richer.”

    He has made the point numerous times, that the “working stiff’s” post-inflation wage has been dropping for at least the last 30 years, which just happens to coincide with the latest growth phase in globalisation.

  3. Denver says:

    Depends on whether you think globalisation has a formal definition that revolves around the expansion of free trade, or you think that the mercantilist “Free Trade Agreements” and all the corporate croneyism and outright theft that’s accompanied them qualify as “globalisation”.

    Personally, I favour the former and not the latter position.

  4. Lloyd says:

    It has been a few years since I studied economics, but I do recall an eloquent and robust theory presented I *think* by Samuelson (someone correct me if I am wrong), who showed that certain groups of people will in fact have a smaller portion of the initial pie due to trade. Despite the new pie being bigger. And secondly, indeed if there are inequities, freeing up trade may actually exaserbate those inequities, I’ve forgotten how. This is coming from pure classical economics, not from dogma or slogans.

  5. Free markets increase overall wealth: trade barrier reductions allow real prices to dominate. Consumption increases, output increases, and poor nations are allowed to utilize their comparitive advantage and bring their people out of poverty. Asia is a prime example of this model. Poverty is decreasing, life expectancy is increasing. The innequality gap is widening, but the entire field of wealth is moving north at the same time, as the author suggests. Capitalism isn’t perfect, no one ever suggested that, but it is by far the best system we have to guide the less than holy human will. These protestors do not represent the masses. A world without money sounds a little too much like Lenin’s War Communism to me, and i think history has afforded us enough insight to know that the abolishon of money, prices, the market, or its overregulation results in disaster. In saying that, the environment is taking a wolloping from global economic growth; but the answer is not Kyoto. It is imperfect, we need to come up with someting else. Well done to Western Europe for taking the lead in that regard. Poor showing Australia and the US. America: wein yourself of gass guzzlers and put all those big oil allowances into alternative fuel research; Australia: drop the sanctimonious attitude and get realistic, utilize nuclear power, and reduce coal burning; China? – Install filters on your coal burning plants!!!

  6. Greg says:

    Hey, I saw that clown with my own eyes! I’m to the far right in that video, unfortunately, i’m so far to the right I can’t be seen.

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