Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Comet's Prescription for Global Progress

Here is what we think we know:

1. The preferred agenda of the Group of 20 Summit in Pittsburgh is to liberalize world trade and disentangle government meddling from markets.

1a. To the extent that that is indeed useful, U.S. farm subsidies are an embarrassment -- as damaging to U.S. long-term strategic interests as Abu Ghraib. Everybody in a position to know this already knows this, except most Congresspersons.

2. Financial sector regulations, debt relief and economic justice, climate change and carbon emissions will seize portions of the G-20's energy and initiative only if member participants are engaged politically, in the present tense -- with one another and with their constituencies and audiences.

3. The best lever "the protesters" have at their disposal presently is President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, pictured here. He has been making veiled threats to "walk out" of the Summit if issues somewhat similar or related to many protester issues are not addressed.

4. Just guessing here: it might be best to appeal to Sarkozy's ego.

5. If France walks out on its own, it will be a total clown and the G-20 will move on without it. That's why France definitely, definitely won't come close to walking out on its own.

6. Germany and Canada are likely to team up with France on several of these matters. So may as-yet-unidentified countries without huge banking sectors, or with axes to grind generally.

7. How far are Germany, Canada and their as-yet unidentified allies (Japan would be nice!) willing to go down Sarkozy's rhetorical route? What if five or six countries start making noises about leaving if "nothing urgent is being discussed" -- not beyond heartwarming bromides?

8. If the G-20 Summit actually were to break down, that would be seen as a dreadful failure of American leadership, obvious to everyone.

9. How awesome would President Obama come across as if by "handling" Sarkozy in the intelligent manner, he is seen at once to have allowed the more vain politician his moment in the sunlight, while avoiding a headache? Obama could save face from altering a few positions by "at last unleashing the creative potential of the Franco-American alliance", making history you could say -- simply by inserting something flashier than imagined about bankers' bonuses into the language of the post-summit Communique.

10. Meanwhile, I do not think the U.S. notion to urge certain G-20 countries to consume more imports in order to balance trade makes any sense yet. And I'm not sure the International Monetary Fund, with its 51%+ stake held by the U.S. alone, is the most appropriate or even most fertile institution to begin vesting with powers.

In summation, today I prescribe healthy doses of "Go Sarkozy, Go!" banners as the best way to disrupt, and to hopefully reorient, the G-20 Summit around more overtly humanitarian priorities. Stay tuned.

And by the way, the success point for the happiness economic indicator is not "making it into the Communique" (unlikely) but rather getting funded and professionally utilized by some halfway credible international institution (looking better). The success point for climate change is a U.S. Presidential commitment to attend Copenhagen in December. The success point for debt relief and economic justice has yet to be apprehended.


  1. I do not think the U.S. notion to urge certain G-20 countries to consume more imports in order to balance trade makes any sense yet.

    What's not to understand? The U.S. can't run a current account deficit forever. Baring the U.S.
    receiving foreign aid or mugging poorly armed countries, this means our exports will have to exceed our imports at some point in the near future. This can be done by either raising U.S. exports or cutting U.S. imports. Which one would you play-up if you were at a global economic summit where everybody is worried about unemployment?

  2. That's quite an analysis from somebody who has no expertise in foreign policy, diplomacy, global economics or international development, and who has heretofore written relatively nothing about the international political landscape on this blog. Now I know where to go for insight and analysis of complex international issues.

  3. MH - I'm all for making U.S. exports more attractive somehow, but I don't see how we can pitch a rational argument for demanding that other countries boost their exports to keep up with us. If self-reliance comes more naturally to other countries, that's a problem for our marketing department, not their purchasing department.

    Anon 12:39 - It's called reading, listening and researching. It's also called starting a conversation. If you'd like to contradict anything I wrote, go right ahead, but if you'd like to just randomly vent some disdain then I guess I'm glad I was here for you.

    Bottom line is if I were the protesters I would be seeking to strengthen Sarkozy's hand. An unexpected burst of fandom for some *other* charismatic foreign leader would definitely generate some stories.

  4. If NATO, The UN and G-20 could coordinate as well as The City of Pittsburgh has in defending its people...that is to say provide security as it has done today, the The Peoples of the World would prosper.

    Of course that takes money.

    If war dollars could be exchanged for economic development dollars...

    G-20 partcipants should make some sort of statement to that effect.

    Just finished 8 hrs in Dahntown...providing creature comforts to those whose efforts I greatly appreciate.

    Here's a Bud Light W Lime to all...very proud of Pittsburgh today!

  5. I saw a bike parked on the CMU campus near Schenley Park with an amusing sign fastened to the milk crate (itself fastened to the rear rack): "US out of Pgh". Almost undoubtedly a student tweaking the protestors (I saw several of them hanging around too).

    I haven't looked too hard at the issues the G20 might address. I will say I would have thought that Obama would be sympathetic to the issue of reducing bankers' bonuses. In terms of farm subsidies, how do you feel about food stamps?

  6. Ed you rascal, you… "food stamps".

    Thanks for the har-dee-har-har!

  7. Ed - Bicyclists rule the school a little today Downtown. No cars, they can get everywhere pedestrians can, and they can figure out how to get from Point A to Point B (assuming it's possible) a lot faster.

    And I don't know how I feel about foodstamps. Good, I guess, at least most of the time.

  8. Bram: Ed said you ride rickshaw…..


    Ed pasted kiester to wall! 'Food Stamps...'

    Gouaches in Knot?

  9. What are the protesters protesting? Honestly, do they even know? Bram, what are you proposing? Do you want US agricultural subsidies lifted? Do you know what that will do to middle America? I'm not saying your wrong, but just asking....

    It is also somewhat curious that one of the big topics for "protesting" is development of Africa. Again, think this through. Do you think all the liberals will be happy if Africa becomes Europe or North America? Do you really want expanding industry and major urban cities in Africa? Do you know what that will do to the environment? Will all the liberals start crying when there are no more nomadic or native tribes in Africa? Will they be upset and write long articles in the NY Times about how sad it is to see bushman using Iphones? Again, I'm not saying what is right or wrong here, but have you thought it through or is this just the latest "protest of the day?"

    Besides, have the protesters REALLY thought through what they want? Do they really want an end to global capitalism (whatever that even means)? I suppose we would be better off in a world without global trade and a world where the wealth of nation depends more on its natural resources. What do you think happens in a world like that? Do you think there would be more or less war? Do you think there would be more or less poverty? What even is poverty? In America, poverty has flat screen tv, mobile phones, bus rides, medicaid, CHIP, cable tv, etc. I guess capitalism sucks. Perhaps we should be more like the Soviet Union. Bread lines anyone?

    Let me guess though, your response will be that we just need a "more balanced approach." What does that really mean though? Can you tell me? That phrase anymore is code for "i really don't know what I am talking about, but want to use words that sound good and no one can argue with." Give me some examples of what you want. Before you start with Sweden, let me ask a few questions. Do you know where Ikea makes its products - not Sweden. Do you know who is among the top of the list in arms proliferation? Yep - Sweden. Guess where all those land mines in Africa and Lebanon were made - Sweden. Where does Erikson make is phones and chips - not Sweden. Anyone ever hear of China?

    The world has changed folks and there ain't much we can do about it. Market forces (and not necessarily the "free market) dictate much more than the G20 or any politician. They are all along for the ride.

  10. Anon 11:15 - In response to your question about farm subsidies, I would expect "middle America" to suffer some hardship and then adapt.

    I think what the protesters are protesting is pretty clear. What links those concerns is not as clear, but I think it has something to do with respect and deference for the entire rest of creation, and a world order not determined by economics. That's the super-duper nutshell.

    Do you think it is impossible to stop bailing out banks and start spending that money on direct investment in people and neighborhoods?