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News ::
Greens fight Free Market for the Third World (english)
11 Sep 2003
"We have had free market capitalism for the better part of the last century. How has the third world been improved? Basically, they have been depleted and starved, and their resources have been expropriated"
"We have had free market capitalism for the better part of the last century. How has the third world been improved? Basically, they have been depleted and starved, and their resources have been expropriated"
Greens, Free Marketers Clash Over Development of Third World
Marc Morano,, Septeber 2003

Just prior to the World Trade Organization's (WTO) meeting in Cancun, Mexico, this week, free market advocates and environmentalists are sparring over the best way to develop the economies of poor nations.

The environmental movement's emphasis on sustainable development - the phrase used to describe earth-friendly projects - often triggers criticism from free market advocates who see it as ineffective and unrealistic. However, those free market believers are promoting a "lawless society" when they criticize sustainable development, according to a top environmentalist who insists modern-day developers must accommodate "nature's limits."

Leon Louw, a member of South Africa's Free Market Foundation who will be in Mexico for the WTO event, cautions: "There is a great danger of eco-imperialism in the environmental movement." He participated in a Cato Institute workshop on the subject of sustainable development, held in Washington, D.C., last week.

Louw rejects the premise that poor nations should be limited to developing their economies in ways that environmentalists consider earth-friendly.

"The third world should be doing what the first world did, which is namely to use its natural resources and build big cities and harbors on what were wetlands, harvest the timber and use it, mine the minerals, exploit the natural resources. This is the sensible thing to do in the third world," Louw told

And if environmental groups and the policymakers of wealthy nations like the United States and Europe balk at the developing world's methods, Louw said the poor countries should send a blunt message.

"I can't put it any more politely. [Poor countries] should just say: 'Go to hell. If you don't want us to fill in our wetlands, then you bomb your big cities like Washington, a third of Holland and Rotterdam and so on, and restore them to being swamps," Louw said.

"The policies that enabled the first world to become the first world - the rich to become the rich - are now denied to those who are poor," Louw added, referring to the growing popularity of the sustainable development strategy.

Development and infrastructure are urgently needed in the poor nations of the world, according to Louw, and should not be delayed to satisfy the environmentalists' agenda.

"In the third world, we are concerned with starving, hungry, dying people. This is the reality," Louw argued. Conversations about whether the planet is warming or whether the oceans are rising, which are popular among environmentalists, are "foggy, vague, scientifically unclear concerns" in the developing world, he added, because "the concern of people of the third world is death now. It is development now, not in the future."

However, environmentalist Gar Smith, editor of the Earth Island Institute's online magazine The Edge, rejected Louw's views.

"It's possible to have sustainable economic environment without going back to a primal state of nature," Smith told "A call for sustainable economies doesn't mean that we eradicate everything that exists." However, he added: "We have to learn to live within nature's limits."

Smith rejected the ideas espoused at the CATO Institute event regarding the development of poor nations. "Basically, they are saying they want a lawless society. These guys are anarchists; they don't want government telling them what to do," Smith said.

Smith also rejected the notion that free market capitalism could help the developing world's poor. "I doubt it. We have had free market capitalism for the better part of the last century. How has the third world been improved? Basically, they have been depleted and starved, and their resources have been expropriated," Smith said.

"There are many other systems that are friendlier systems, that are based on maintaining the earth's natural capital instead of expropriating and spending it like there is no tomorrow," Smith added. Smith referred to what he called "natural capitalism" as the solution to the poverty that ails the developing world.

Natural capitalism "respects the limits of nature's ability to replenish the natural capital" and encourages people "to enjoy the fruits instead of uprooting the tree," Smith said. "You have to think long term," he added.

Barun Mitra of India's Liberty Institute was also a panelist at the CATO seminar and belittled the thousands of anti-capitalist protestors who are expected to descend on Cancun for the WTO meeting.

"It's easy for western elite students from universities in America to try to speak for the poor in developing countries. But while some of their concerns might be genuine, they have very little understanding of poverty," Mitra told

Mitra believes the green movement should place poverty reduction higher on its list of priorities."If the environmental activists are really concerned about preserving the planet, then they must fight for ways to help people come out of poverty. Poverty is the worst form of pollution," Mitra explained.

Louw believes the anti-capitalist protesters arriving for the WTO meeting are the "elitists of the first world" who don't want "the poor of the third world to be able to buy cheap products.

"If you are against globalization and free trade, you are against selling cheap products of good quality to the people of the third world. It is very important to understand that," Louw said.

The solution to eradicating poverty in the world is simple, according to Louw. "Poverty is a choice. Prosperity is a choice. It is not some destiny that comes in on the wheels of inevitability, about which we have no control. We have absolute control. Poverty is caused by governments that prevent prosperity. Prosperity is the natural, spontaneous consequence of human action," Louw explained.

Louw does not hold back in attacking the environmental movement and its view of the state of the earth. "It is engaged in complete nonsense. Planet earth is at no threat whatever," Louw said.

Louw also does not believe residents of the planet today need to be overly concerned about future generations. "I like to put it very bluntly. The people in the future have done nothing for me, and I see no reason why I should do anything for them," Louw quipped.

"I am a human chauvinist pig. I want the environment to be good for people, especially poor people," Louw added.

But Smith has a far different view of the earth. "Many of the predictions that were made by environmentalists 30, 40 years ago and climate modelers 10, 20 years ago, appear...on the front pages of our newspapers and magazines as well as in our skies and around the world in the form of extreme weather, floods, droughts, extreme temperatures," Smith explained.

"The auguries are not good for our future," Smith added.
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