Opportunities Missed At The G-20

Isaiah J. Poole

The debate over how well President Obama did at the G-20 summit last week—and certainly the debate over who touched who first in the encounter between First Lady Michelle Obama and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth—doesn’t address the most important question of all: What did working families around the world get out of the summit? What could they have gotten?

Co-director Robert Borosage’s assessment of the summit of global leaders is that this was a major missed opportunity. “The G-20 leaders chose to agree to agree. The Europeans avoided bold new stimulus commitments. The British and Americans avoided bold new regulation of the financial community. Clearly, the leaders decided to let the crisis decide whether new steps are necessary.”

Putting off the difficult questions for another day only risks hobbling recovery in the United States and throughout the globe. It also means that whatever happens in the coming months that will look like recovery will still contain the rot of the flawed economics of the past, and will therefore implode again.

A more promising and more consequential summit would have tackled the agenda in the Global Unions London Declaration put forward before the summit by the International Trade Union Confederation and the Trade Union Advisory Committee. That agenda, endorsed by the AFL-CIO, called for the following:

  • A coordinated international recovery and sustainable growth plan with maximum impact on job creation focusing on public investment, active labor market policies, protecting the most vulnerable through extended social safety nets, and ‘green economy’ investments that can shift the world economy onto a low-carbon growth path.
  • Nationalization of insolvent banks immediately so as to restore confidence and lending in the financial system and beyond this establish the new rules and mechanisms to control global finance with full stakeholder engagement. Combatting the risk of wage deflation and reversing the growth of income inequality by extending the coverage of collective bargaining and strengthening wage setting institutions so as to establish a decent floor in labor markets.
  • Preparing the ground for a far-reaching and ambitious international agreement on climate change at the international climate meeting in Copenhagen, in December.
  • Establishing a legal benchmark of norms and instruments for such international economic and social institutions as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, and institute reforms that bring them under more effective and accountable global governance.

Many of these issues were tacked at the Global Progressive Forum in Brussels, a parallel conference to the G-20 that featured progressive politicians and thinkers from around the world. Borosage was a participant at the forum.

The GPF was an opportunity to hear leaders not only take on though issues but hear bold and promising ideas on such topics as making fair trade a reality, bringing the green economy to the developing world and getting international trade and economic organizations better serve the needs of countries at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Nonetheless, Robert Kuttner, one of the keynote speakers at the conference, wrote in The Huffington Post that “people felt that this global economic crisis should be their moment—but that the politics has not yet caught up with the economics.”

“What was missing at the G-20 was a true revolution in the thinking of the global financial and political elites.” he wrote. “And that will not happen without either more inspired leadership at the top or more pressure from below.”

Last week’s G-20 failed to spark the level of united global action needed to accelerate the recovery and start the process of rebuilding the new economy. But there will be more opportunities to push for more forceful global action, and the progressive movement can prepare for the battles ahead with improved coordination between labor and other progressive groups in the United States and their compatriots in other parts of the globe. There are a wealth of good ideas out there—you can capture some of them in the archived material on the Global Progressive Forum website. The building blocks are there for a truly global progressive movement, and it’s never been more needed than today.

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