There is no Planet B for the G20

The G8 meeting in Muskoka and the G20 gathering in Toronto helped to clarify what is going on in Canada and the world. The Harper government spent $1.2 billion on security measures. We now know security does not mean protecting Canadian citizens, say from terrorist acts; it means attacking fundamental civic freedoms (such as the right to walk home), arresting people in order to register them for future surveillance, and imposing a climate of fear so as to stifle dissent.

Taking the security state to the streets has its risks. The pictures of police cars burning, and store windows being broken were supposed to discredit grassroots critiques of big power world politics. Instead, the 25,000 peaceful protesters gained the respect lost by the police and the G8/G20 host government.

The abuse of police power on the weekend is what Canadians will remember about the Toronto G20. Boxing in people who were heading home, forcing them to wait in driving rain until the police decided to give the all clear, is not going to increase the popularity of the Harper government.

French President Sarkozy taunted the Harper regime for the exorbitant costs of the security bill it delivered to the Canadian public. He promised that in 2011 as host for the G8/G20 meetings, the French government would provide security at one-tenth the cost incurred by the Harper government.

The allocation of task between the G8 and the G20 remains hazy. Neither is up to the multiple tasks facing a world without a Planet B. The G20 is supposed to take on world economic issues, with the G8 dealing with development, and international security. In reality, neither grouping has the legitimacy that only the ability to take binding decisions can confer on an international body.

Much was made by the media of the Harper G20 victory in securing phased-in targets for reductions of government deficits by 2013, and debt to GDP ratios by 2016. The only reason anything this specific was accepted in the final communiqué was that it is a meaningless undertaking by a body with no legal, moral, or political authority.

The Harper agenda was to appease bond markets by having the G20 unite (in a photo op) to reduce government spending.

Countries with high interest rates, floating currencies, and large external trade can always reduce spending... by reducing interest rates. Lower interest rates reduce the deficit, devalue the currency, and help boost exports while limiting imports. Sounds good, but all countries cannot do this simultaneously.

Needless to say, devaluation is not what bond markets have in mind; like Harper, bond dealers prefer less social spending, and smaller governments.

Today, many countries, including Canada, start with low interest rates, and high unemployment. Getting (or keeping) well-paying full-time jobs is the issue that matters to citizens. Whatever wording made it into the 2010 G8/G20 communiqués does not change these political stakes at home for heads of government.

Established in 1975 (as the G5), the G8 was a poorly disguised imitation of the Congress of Vienna of 1815, a great power forum for accommodation of competing interests. The G20 is a political grouping that gives the major powers a larger forum to attempt to exert their influence over others.

Canadian interests and those of other citizens around the world would be better served by establishing within the United Nations a Global Economic Co-ordination Council as recommended by the Commission of Experts set up by the President of the UN General Assembly to examine the financial crisis. As described in paragraph 52 of its report, the new body would take its place alongside the Economic and Social Council. It would have its own independent advisory body, and draw on a secretariat committed to the global good (not photo-ops).

The report suggest the new Council "could thus provide a democratically representative alternative to the G20." It could easily operate for 10 years or more for the price of the Toronto security fiasco. Its recommendations might even exert a positive influence on the real agenda facing the world: jobs, incomes, climate change, the environment, women's rights, development, and peace.


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