Where are the protesters when you need them?
What's most notable in Washington this weekend, as the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank commence, is the calm in the streets. On Friday afternoon, only a smattering of colorfully garbed youths occupied the small park across from World Bank headquarters, and the lone microphone I could hear was in the hands of a rather addled young man who bleated out a warped version of the song "Feelings" (for reasons known only to him).
Compared with the late '90s and early '00s, the anti-globalization movement seems to have petered out. And oddly enough, at a time when you might think a successor movement would rear its head in the United States--like an anti-greedy bankers movement--the streets are silent. Oh, for the days of the April 2000 meetings, when an activist scrawled a 75-yard-long graffito along the Whitehurst Freeway: "Outlaw bankers," it began, then proceeded to demonize property rights and debt, ending with the exhortation: "String up CEOs with Bankers' Guts." This message was later punctuated by a load of horse manure, which was dumped in front of the Bank's pristine white-faced headquarters. Atop it a demonstrator plunked a sign: "World Bank Meet Stinks."
None of that now, at least here (the G-20 gathering in London at the beginning of the month was a bit more raucous). The weirdest thing of all is that the most virulent protests -- at least in Washington -- seemed to take place when the economy was booming. Now that we are in a major recession, no one cares. And unlike in the '90s and early '00s, the kinds of decisions being made at gatherings like this really could determine what happens to all of us down the line -- especially whether big bad Wall Street will be allowed reconstitute its old institutions and trading practices and simply pick up where it left off, billions richer in taxpayer money. Judging from the serious differences between Americans and Europeans, as well as other members of the new G-20 elite, over everything from stimulus to regulatory reform, not a lot;is likely to get done here. We could sure use some protesters about now.