Thursday, April 02, 2009

G20–the birth of better institutions?

David Hayes writes for OpenDemocracy:
The question of exactly who and what the G20 is, has yet to be resolved (the 3,070-word communiqué uses the word "we" ninety times). Perhaps - as Claude Sautet said in another context - being together will become enough to answer it. That has worked for the G7/G8, after all; but doesn't such very lack of definition suit less-than-accountable power all too well?

The shift from in-itself to for-itself may yet happen. Everything seems open in these deeply uncertain times - including the future of a new body that in its early incarnation more fairly reflects the shifting economic and geopolitical power-balances in the world. If a trend towards its institutionalisation develops, the implications for its older and more established siblings (the G7/G8, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and World Trade Organisation) might also be profound. The United Nations too - which hosts an emergency summit of its own in June 2009, but which has been missing in action in many of the global deliberations - needs to find its voice.

A grouping that emerged in ad-hoc fashion from a crisis which has wrecked the lives of millions and threatens even greater damage, whose character is less than defined and whose final form is unclear, is in an odd position: it has neither the credibility that comes from substantive achievement nor yet the taint of failure and disappointed expectations. The diversity of the G20 is an additional complicating factor here for those who would anathematise it with the vehemence they might attach to the G8 or the IMF; a group that includes the governments of (say) Brazil, South Africa and India is by that very fact significantly different from one run by rich, white, western elites.

Update: At the conclusion Robert Kuttner takes his analysis several steps further:
...But for the most part, the fate of the European center-left has been to preside over slightly less awful center-right policies and then to suffer retribution at the polls.

With European parliamentary elections coming up in June, and even nominally center-left governments more solicitous of banks than of ordinary people, it's not at all clear that progressive parties will benefit from what should be the greatest embarrassment of capitalism since the 1930s, or that the politics and regulation of capitalism will be transformed.

The Brussels meetings produced a brave communiqué, calling for a Global New Deal, built on sustainable development, the harnessing of private finance, and broad social justice. The meetings opened with a stirring speech by Bill Clinton, who managed to sound more progressive than he ever did in office. I found myself thinking: If only this man had been president[...]

This Group of 20 meeting was notable only because the club of seven leading democracies plus Russia ("the G-8") was expanded to include emerging world powers such as India, China, and Brazil. The most important third world nations never embraced financial market fundamentalism, and they are a salutary counterweight.

But the 2009 summit, whose extensive press clippings will soon be fishwrap, succeeded mainly because it managed not to fail. Michelle Obama dominated European television for a week. Her husband was hailed as a diplomatic genius for mediating a minor dust-up between French President Sarkozy (who was threatening to take his boule and go home because of the summit's tepid acceptance of an OECD blacklist of forbidden tax-havens) and Chinese President Hu Jin-tao (who insisted that the communiqué not give any role to the OECD, which excludes China.) Obama solved the spat with an indirect reference to the OECD list, and persuaded the two grown men to shake hands like adults. In this age of diminished expectations, that feat passes for statecraft.

But the Europeans did not get the Americans to commit to the details of tougher financial regulation. Nor did the Americans get the Europeans to agree to more economic stimulus spending. Instead, the two camps punted the ball to two international organizations of dubious provenance. (read the whole thing)

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