The Medieval World Trade Organization?

Once again I’m behind the curve, because the first I heard of this baffling use of the word medieval was today when a friend forwarded me a link to the Times Online story: Lamy takes charge at ‘medieval’ WTO.

Apparently, Pascal Lamy, the man who’s going to be taking the reins of the World Trade Organization as director general, once called the WTO “a medieval organisation,”* and people who remember this quote hold it against him.

But what do they think he meant by it? I suppose the WTO is like the medieval church, in that it’s a transnational force that can inflict punishment on the leaders of a nation. The WTO’s tariff threat against a nation is the closest thing in the modern era to threatening a king (and by extension all his subjects) with excommunication. Or maybe he means that it’s like a medieval guild, in that the member states have given up some individual autonomy in order to create a centralized policing body with more bargaining power.

Yeah, yeah–of course he means ‘medieval’ in the ‘general perjorative adjective meaning barbaric’ kind of way. But even on that count, I doubt his quote makes much sense. I’m going to dig deeper and find out just what context he said it in. Stay tuned.

*He was sure to pronounce organization with an s, because he knew he’d be quoted by the British media.

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