When Moore isn’t less, Tim Hazledine

A World Without Walls: Freedom, Development, Free Trade and Global Governance
Mike Moore
Cambridge University Press, $75,
ISBN 0521827019

The cover of Mike Moore’s new book about his three years as director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) shows a photo taken at an anti-globalisation demonstration outside World Bank headquarters in Washington DC. At centre stage is a large and rather well-dressed effigy, with a head in papier mâché not unrecognisable as Moore, and a sign hung round its neck: “Michael [sic] Moore Starves the Poor”.

This trait of taking the mickey out of himself – along with an unabashed delight in his own achievements – seems deeply ingrained in the man, even to the point of doing himself harm. You have to wonder how helpful this cover will be in irony-deficient markets like the United States. Why would anyone buy a book by someone who starves the poor, or take seriously someone who, right at the beginning of his narrative, boasts that he “distinguished himself by becoming the shortest-serving premier in the country’s history”?

And yet Mike Moore seems to have an even more unusual trait, which amongst his peers he may share only with his erstwhile colleague and rival, Helen Clark, who was not particularly distinguished at any of her previous jobs – from academic, to leader of the opposition – but who is happy as a sand-boy as Prime Minister of New Zealand.  That is, he is a rare counter-example of the Peter Principle, which has it that ambitious people eventually rise to the level of their incompetence – a maxim certainly well supported by the recent evidence of National Party leadership.

For two things must be conceded: first, leading the WTO is an incredibly difficult job; secondly, at least by his own lights and those of his supporters, Moore performed impressively. He pulled things together after the 1999 shambles in Seattle, where garishly costumed protestors resembling, Moore says, the bar scene from Star Wars, thoroughly disrupted an inadequately prepared round of international trade negotiations, pushing through to the “Doha Declaration” achieved two years later in the more friendly surrounds of the Gulf state of Qatar.

How did he do it? By his own account, Moore went around the world cracking jokes and cracking heads. Of the jokes, at least one is worth repeating:

I made a special visit to Beijing to promote Russia’s accession  [to the WTO] and to enlist China’s understanding. Chinese ministers joked that they have concerns that Russians don’t understand capitalism. “Yes,” I replied, “too many ex-communists – you don’t have that problem in China.” The Chinese delegation thought that this was one of the funniest things they had ever heard.


OK, one more joke:

If they sold the Imperial Palace, he [the Crown Prince of Japan] said, they could buy California. “Why bother,” I replied, “you own most of it now.” He thought that very amusing.


As for cracking heads, there is plenty of this recounted in the book, breezily passed off as being all-in-the-good-cause. Other commentators have seen matters in a darker light. Reviewing World Without Walls in the New Left Review (Jan/Feb 2004) under the title “The Ringmaster of Doha”, Robert Wade concludes: “Read against the grain [the book] confirms [Aileen] Kwa’s findings of an institutionalised regime of intimidation, marginalisation and outright coercion to ensure that the Quad countries (US, EU, Japan and Canada) get what they want.”

Of course others see things differently. Those of us sniffy intellectuals back home in New Zealand who may or may not be moved by Moore’s political achievements should at least be impressed that he has written a (good) book published by Cambridge and noticed widely internationally, including the honour of a three-page review in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) – rather more space, for example, than was given there to the (good) books from my Auckland colleagues Professors Anne Salmond and Jamie Belich.

But what a review! Written by a deputy editor of the paper’s parent, the Murdoch-owned Times of London, with the name Rosemary Righter – which sounds suspiciously like the nom de plume of someone intent on seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses from a right-wing perspective – the TLS piece pushes out all the simplistic pro-“free” trade, pro-globalisation maxims and nostrums and fails to give any credence to the possibility that those with doubts about the WTO agenda might be other than fools or knaves.

The sides are so far apart that there really isn’t a debate – just confrontation, both political and ideological. Yet there is some common ground, and this book does point to it. Mike Moore really doesn’t want to starve the poor – he claims, and I believe him, that improving the lot of poorer people and poor countries is his primary goal in public life. He just happens to hold that what he calls free trade is the best if not only path to achieving widespread prosperity. Those on the left can share this end if not the means. And all people of goodwill must surely agree that a major block to development – an obstacle which brought down the Cancun talks that followed Moore’s departure from the WTO – is the vicious regime of agricultural and textile protectionism, which drives prices up in the US, Japan and the EU, and down, often ruinously, in the markets for the produce of people of poor and developing economies.


Tim Hazledine is Professor of Economics at the University of Auckland.


Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review
Search the archive
Search by category