With the world leaders packed up and gone, we can now ponder whether Africans will get fed and how the summit will affect Canada’s Prime Minister, Jean Chretien’s profile.

All this is stuff we can relate to. The protestors, on the other hand, seem more perplexing. To begin with, their behaviour doesn’t fit with the standard model, where everyone is simply out to maximize their own self-interest.

How to explain the fact that thousands of people across the country took part in demonstrations last week to champion debt relief for Africa, without even receiving handsome retainers or improving their chances of getting into an MBA program? All this concern for others seems hard to fathom.

Clearly, it would be a lot more comfortable for everyone here if these young people would just do something normal -like shop. Why can’t they behave like regular folks and put their energies instead into, say, getting a fancier gas barbecue for the cottage?

It’s tempting perhaps, to conclude that those engaging in snake-dancing without pay or taking off their clothes without the prospect of a porno film deal, must be confused — about their lives and about the issues. G8 leaders and other global economy enthusiasts are hoping we’ll conclude that.

But it’s worth noting that much of what the protestors say jibes with what an intellectual superstar like Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has to say. And, interestingly, when Stiglitz said these things in the late 1990s, it didn’t go down any better with the world’s ruling elite. And he soon found himself dumped from the prestigious position of chief economist at the World Bank. (So even if they dispense with the green hair and balaclavas, protestors shouldn’t count on much of a hearing from the G8 crowd.)

Stiglitz has no green hair, and when I interviewed him last year, he was in the back of a very mainstream stretch limo (on his way to meet Canada’s then Finance Minister Paul Martin — who had sought his opinions.)

What Stiglitz and the protestors have in common, though, is a distrust of the economic model that the G8 leaders — and the vast bureaucracies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). and the World Bank that answer to them — have been imposing on the world in the past two decades, in the name of “globalization.”

To listen to a lot of commentators last week, the problem has been the west has selflessly squandered billions on Africans without demanding a proper accounting (perhaps Arthur Andersen’s accounting firm could have helped out), and rendering them dependent.

In this version of events, Africa is akin to the legendary beer-slugging welfare mom who can’t make anything of her life because she’s so hooked on hand-outs.

This is a comforting thought for the west. People are dying over there despite our generosity. What’s needed is a little tough love on our part. Trade not aid.

But Stiglitz — who witnessed things close up, from inside the Washington power circle — presents the west’s role as far less benign.

It turns out these no-strings-attached hand-outs never existed. Stiglitz notes that we routinely force developing countries to accept a rigid set of conditions aimed at weakening their governments and opening their markets for western penetration, even though all successful economies — including the United States and the celebrated east Asian tigers — got started with some mix of strong government and protected markets.

It wasn’t surprising, then, when a group of African leaders came forward with their own aid package, known as New Partnership African Development (NEPAD), they adhered to this open-market formula, knowing who they were appealing to. (No point in pitching abstinence to a room full of priests.)

Stiglitz says IMF experts regularly make decisions about what’s best for Third World countries while experiencing little more than the room service and pool facilities at the local first class hotel. Many IMF economists, he suggests, seem to regard themselves as “shouldering Rudyard Kipling’s white man’s burden.”

The results haven’t been good. After two decades of being subjected to this open-market, weak-government model, no country has worked itself out of the debt that brought it to the IMF and World Bank in the first place, according to the Washington-based Jubilee USA Network.

Of course, the same two decades produced great wealth, particularly for a tiny elite in the west, who now finance an industry of think-tanks to convince everyone else “globalization” is beneficial and, even if it isn’t, it’s inevitable — so get used to it.

Meanwhile, at country clubs and golf courses throughout North America, there seems to be much certainty that Africa could do fine if it just faced the fact that what it needs is more trade and less aid. And there’s similar conviction that if those young protestors would just think a little more clearly, someday they could all be driving BMW cars.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...