Posted by: Nicholas Davis | March 30, 2009

The media’s G20 fake-out

Just a quick question that arose today over lunch – why are the media trying so hard to make the G20 leaders summit this week look like a hotbed of inter-state conflict and ideological grand-standing? Here’s The Guardian with a headline far more dramatic than the article suggests, the BBC is continually calling for unity (here and here) – thus implying that disunity is the current state – and here is The Times unequivocably calling destroyed “any last hope of a united continental approach to the economic crisis”.

Perhaps that’s a stupid question – conflict clearly sells more papers than shiny, happy people stories – but is it true that the G20 process is one riven by division?

Not really, it seems. Naturally there are many different viewpoints on different matters – the level of fiscal stimulus, what to do about protectionism, how exactly to go about regulating those pesky banks, who gets to be in the next ‘G-club’ etc.  But let’s stop for a minute and appreciate what HAS been agreed, and marvel at the unprecedented level of coordination amongst 19 countries and the EU that we are witnessing:

  • We’ve been guaranteed at least two official leaders meetings of elected leaders representing 85% of global GNP and 80% of world trade (the Washington one last year, the one this Thursday) during what has been a major financial and economic crisis that has severely affected the domestic economies of all involved. Now, I know we all take Davos for granted these days, but the G20 leaders meetings really are a big step forward from the G7/8 and represent a major accomplishment in terms of top-level, multilateral, global cooperation. Let’s keep that in mind.
  • We’ve had consolidation on key issues in relation to the global financial crisis. Sure, communique’s to date have been very high-level and principles based, but to be honest, they compare fairly favourably with the plans from the US Treasury and Administration on dealing with the crisis, so what can you expect? At least there are now two documents which give key guidelines and a clear agenda for a coordinated response to the current turmoil on a global level.
  • There is increasing movement on key issues such as the reform of the IMF – this alone would be a massive deal for global cooperation. Balancing the voting power of developing countries and providing a proper level of funding to the IMF represents a huge milestone in global power shifts and an essential adjustment to the realities of the BRIC world. A lot of smart people see this as the key issue for the meeting on April 2.

I’m not saying that the G20 meeting on Thursday is going to solve any of the world’s current issues, nor that it’s happy families between delegates.  I’m just saying that disunity isn’t the key problem here and nor is there serious evidence of major conflict; meanwhile, talking up stories of division is only making things tougher for both leaders (who don’t need to waste time on diplomacy right now) and populations (who shouldn’t be looking to the G20 leaders to validate populist positions or fight ideological battles).

The G20 leaders will no doubt issue a communique on Thursday that is disappointingly vague, and many issues will be left on the table for the finance ministers and central bankers or the next leaders meeting (in whatever format that might take).

But the very fact that they’re getting together to discuss serious issues at this point in time should be a big encouragement to everyone, and we should be looking for evidence to confirm the benefits of cooperation, rather than the drama of division.

UPDATE: I think I’ve worked it out, based on the fact that G20 bashing is going on heavily in the blogosphere too – as in here and here at The Baseline Scenario. First, expectations on governments to get us out of this mess are sky high, given that they are the only ones with the tools to put things right. Second, predicting doom has been a pretty good strategy for the last six months now, so why would anyone stop now?


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