As the G-20 conference progresses in Toronto, amid heavy protests and at a cost of $1 Billion dollars for security, one wonders if heavily publicized G-20 meeting are really necessary and what is accomplished by all the fanfare.
First of all, what is the G-20?
The countries and regions in the G-20 represent 80% of the world’s economy, meaning that any consensus reached by the G-20 could potentially have far ranging effects. It was established in the wake of global recession which began in 2007 and includes the countries of South Africa, Canada, Mexico, United States, Argentina, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, European Union, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Russia, Turkey, Australia, and permanent “guest” Spain.
The G-20 is meeting now in Toronto Canada, but will also meet in November of 2010 in South Korea. Protesters are concerned both that the G-20 meets in private, and that its members, though representing the vast majority of the world’s economic activity, are making decisions which affect many more people than those in its member nations. For example, many developing and thus poorer countries, such as those in Africa, are not official participants at the G-20 summits, except for South Africa. Do countries such as Italy and Turkey try to make decisions which help everybody in the world or just those who live in rich countries?
In these difficult economic times, the decisions made by the G-20 will have an even greater effect on almost everybody in the world. It is thus perhaps ironic that while protesters voice their opposition to globalism outside the Toronto venue, while inside the security fence major players such as the United States, Japan and the European Union are airing their differences over how best to deal with the current economic meltdown. Thus is it really worth having a G-20 conference every six months or so?
While $1 Billion dollars for security may be considered small change for some countries, it is still a significant amount of money to be spent on a meeting which is held in private. This of course does not include the hundreds of millions spent by countries in order to send their leaders to these events. Protesters realize that this could be one billion dollars spent on other perhaps more worthwhile endeavors.
But don’t the world’s leaders need to meet and discuss things?
Meeting between the governments of different countries helps prevent wars and fosters understanding. However, a remote location for the event could be chosen which would minimize security costs and would not result in the disruption of life in a major city such as Toronto. For example, the meeting could be held on the resort of a private island, or it could be held on an aircraft carrier at sea, or in a secluded mountain area, such as Camp David, which would be much easier to secure. The age of the internet means that such meeting could even be held via video conference; though of course this would eliminate much of the “hallway banter” between delegates where much of the more substantial conversations are held.
Nonetheless, economic cooperation is seen as increasingly important in the post-Soviet and post-recession world that faces the world’s economies in this new decade. Summits, such as the G-20 allow world leaders to move away from isolationism and towards cooperation, which it often a good thing as it encourages countries to help out their less fortunate neighbors with the hope that it will keep the entire financial system solvent. Germany’s willingness to help Greece with its financial difficulties, and thus keep the Eurozone intact, will likely benefit not only countries in Europe but also the rest of the world.
In a way the meetings of the world’s economic titans in G-8 and G-20 conferences has helped the media hold them more accountable even though the press is barred from the events. For example, the G-8 recently decided to fund $7.3 Billion for the improvement of child and maternal health, a number which some critics believe is too low, but at least it is a step in the right direction. By making public such commitments to funding public health measures, so called “world governments” or perhaps more accurately the will power of rich countries to help fund global health initiatives, can be appropriately criticized. For this reason, global summits such as the G-20 are important as they give advocates of worthy causes a blueprint for world’s economic development and aide to actively criticize.
If such meetings were conducted via telephone, and in some filled back rooms, and no press releases were issued, then nobody would really know what was going on. So perhaps the G-20 meetings are a good idea after all.