12 February 2010

Harper's G20 Fantasy

Stephen Harper, speaking from his pulpit as this year's G20 Chair, has announced to the world that its economic leaders agree on a global Keynesian economy where the individual sovereign interests of states are ultimately suborned to international oversight by the G20 to help us reach a point of "enlightened sovereignty" (and strangely not 'enlightened sovereign interest' as Mill would have had it).

“...we also know markets need governance. For the new global economy, the G-20 is what we have.”

 Well, we do know markets need governance. Apparently, we may have actually learned that lesson sometime since November 2008, although it would be tough to put your finger on who learned it or what they have done to address the problem, but I digress. And Steve was clear that we have the tools - all we need, he assures us, is to actually enforce the rules we already have. He's talking about getting real results, not just talk.

So what's wrong with this picture?

First, of course, the idea that the United States (or China or Russia or India for that matter) is going to suborn its sovereign interests to the others is completely laughable. Unless Harper just means everyone in the world complying with US standards, there will be no global standard, ever. And obviously he does not mean that the kind of regulation future markets need is the US style non-regulation that caused this recession. So as far as talk v. action goes, this is in the 'strictly talk' pile and will stay there until the collapse of the American Empire or the rise of their complete hegemony, whichever comes first.

More important, however, is what this all says about Harper's view of the world and our future in it. First, it is an entirely economic future. The important thing in this future is to regulate markets and financial institutions, not to prevent abuse of workers or environmental degradation or malnutrition or the spread of preventable diseases. The group that's going to do this most important of future jobs is the G-20, not elected but mutually selected because they view themselves as the richest 20 nations in the world. And together they have the tools - existing tools of economic and financial regulation.

So let us be clear, then, about the future world according to Stephen Harper: it's a world where money and markets are not just more important than people, but all-important; it's a world where decisions are made not by the elected or the virtuous, but the rich; it's a world where right and wrong is determined not partly but exclusively by the balance in the ledger. It's a world where the wealthy are free to turn their attention to making more wealth for themselves, while the many billions of poor wait (as they have long waited) for the 'trickle-down' and the scraps from master's plate. The meek may inherit the earth, but not until the wealthy are finished with it.

The G20 simply doesn't have the tools to make the future world better, as Harper says. That's an outright lie. It's a nice place for the wold's most powerful heads of state to sit and shoot the bull (and without bowing knee to the CEOs as they inevitably have to do at Davos where they are outranked), but it's the United Nations that has the tools for the job of making a better world for future generations. It is the WFP, not the G20, that knows more about malnutrition and famine than any other body. It is the WHO, not the G20, that has been at work eradicating disease. It is the ILO, not the G20, that has and will continue to work to prevent globalization from becoming a race to the bottom in environmental and labour standards. It is the General Assembly that represents every nation on earth, and gives them each a single vote no matter how fat their wallet or how many battalions they can field. Just like we do here in the little democracy we call Canada.

It is the UN that will save future generations from the scourge of war, if such a beautiful future is indeed possible for humans.

Is the UN unwieldy and bureaucratic? Yes, but these are frequent side-effects of democracy, which I for one still pretend to value and which the G20 completely lacks. The UN is the worst system for improving the world - except for every other system that we've tried. Including the G20. 


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