Also in ForeignPolicy
London Econ Summit: Born of Good Intentions, But Ends in Disastrous Results
John Cavanagh, Robin Broad
10 Terms Not to Use with Muslims
The Group of 20 (G20) is making a big show of getting together to come to grips with the global economic crisis. But here's the problem with the upcoming summit in London on April 2: It's all show. What the show masks is a very deep worry and fear among the global elite that it really doesn't know the direction in which the world economy is heading and the measures needed to stabilize it.
The latest statistics are exceeding even the gloomiest projections made earlier. Establishment analysts are beginning to mention the dreaded "D" word and there is a spreading sense that a tidal wave just now gathering momentum will simply overwhelm the trillions of dollars allocated for stimulus spending. In this environment, the G20 conveys the impression that they're more commanded by than in command of developments (In addition to the seven wealthy industrial nations that belong to the G7, the G20 includes China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Korea, Turkey, Italy, and South Africa.).
Indeed, perhaps no image is more evocative of the current state of the global economy than that of a World War II German U-Boat depth-charged in the North Atlantic by British destroyers. It's going down fast, and the crew doesn't know when it will hit rock bottom. And when it does hit the ocean floor, the big question is: Will the crew be able to make the submarine rise again by pumping compressed air into the severely damaged ballast tanks, like the sailors in Wolfgang Petersen's classic film Das Boot? Or will the U-Boat simply stay at the bottom, its crew doomed to contemplate a fate worse than sudden death?
The current capitalist crew manning the global economy doesn't know whether Keynesian methods can re-inflate the global economy. Meanwhile, an increasing number of people are asking whether using a clutch of Social Democratic-like reforms is enough to repair the global economy, or whether the crisis will lead to a new international economic order.
A New Bretton Woods?
The G20 meeting has been trumpeted as a new "Bretton Woods." In July 1944, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, representatives of the state-managed capitalist economies designed the postwar multilateral order with themselves at the center.
In fact, the two meetings couldn't be further apart.
The London meeting will last one day; the Bretton Woods conference was a tough 21-day working session.
The London meeting is exclusive, with 20 governments arrogating to themselves the power to decide for 172 other countries. The Bretton Woods meeting tried hard to be inclusive to avoid precisely the illegitimacy that dogs the G20's London tryst. Even in the midst of global war, it brought together 44 countries, including the still-dependent Commonwealth of the Philippines and the tiny, now-vanished Siberian state of Tannu Tuva.
The Bretton Woods Conference created new multilateral institutions and rules to manage the postwar world. The G20 is recycling failed institutions: the G20 itself, the Financial Stability Forum (FSF), the Bank of International Settlements and "Basel II," and the now 65-year-old International Monetary Fund (IMF). Some of these institutions were established by the elite Group of 7 after the 1997 Asian financial crisis to come up with a new financial architecture that would prevent a repetition of the debacle brought about by IMF policies of capital account liberalization. But instead of coming up with safeguards, all these institutions bought the global financial elite's strategy of "self-regulation."
Among the mantras they thus legitimized were that capital controls were bad for developing economies; short-selling, or speculating on the movement of borrowed stocks, was a legitimate market operation; and derivatives — or securities that allow betting on the movements of an underlying asset — "perfected" the market. The implicit recommendation of their inaction was that the best way to regulate the market was to leave it to market players, who had developed sophisticated but allegedly reliable models of "risk assessment."
Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Walden Bello is president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, senior analyst at the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines.