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World Econ Conference Participant Criticizes Protests

The thousands of activists gathered in New York to protest the World Economic Forum represent a wide variety of causes. But the overall target of the demonstrators is the increasing globalization of the world economy which, the protest groups say, is leaving out too many of the world's people. A longtime participant in WEF conferences says the protests are counter-productive.

John Gage is the chief researcher for Sun Mircosystems, one of the world's most successful technology companies. The California-based company's computer products can be found in more than 170 nations.

Mr. Gage says Sun has a responsibility to participate in gatherings such as the World Economic Forum because technology plays an increasingly significant role in the solutions to problems under discussion at the conference, such as poverty, security and education. "This is a business conference with Bishop Tutu," he says. "This is a business conference with Bono (of the rock-group U-2). This is a business conference where the religious leaders, those who are convinced and can convince the business community that debt relief is fundamental for the life of all those in Africa."

Mr. Gage says many of the anti-globalization protesters have a simplistic view of what is taking place inside at the World Economic Forum. "Often those outside feel that what those inside are doing is plotting against them, (that) globalization will strip away whatever benefits could possibly be deriving from cheaper and cheaper products," he says. "But in reality, the World Economic Forum, behind closed doors, expands the accounting idea that a businessman has from a simple dollar figure from sales, into something that adds to that calculation (such as) effects on the environment, effecting the lives of human beings without minimal fair wages, affecting the overall environment in which we do business and bring up our families and educate our children."

Mr. Gage says the exchange of ideas and information at the conference between business people and religious, academic and political leaders actually supports many of the causes the activists represent. "This is the way, in each country in a different way, we build societies that allow us to find food and shelter and transportation… These are the builders of all that. The value of the demonstrators, whatever their particular issue may be, is to make those who every day must build things aware of the passion that they should bring to analyzing what they do," he says.

Street demonstrations against the WEF have been muted as protest groups hold seminars and meetings around the city to explain and debate their causes.