December 2010 | Vol. 24 No. 11
Last month's G20 meeting in Seoul may well have been the most-hyped gathering of global leaders in recent years. After the G20's success in rebuilding confidence in the aftermath of the global financial crisis—and in creating the impression that world leaders of every political stripe and persuasion could, indeed, work together for the common good—hopes were high that the summit would produce some concrete proposals for more effectively managing the global economy.
Sadly, it didn't work out that way. In the days leading up to the summit, enough squabbles broke out between the various countries in attendance that the meeting itself was declared a success simply because no fistfights broke out. Well, none that made it into public view, anyway. After a marathon all-night session, the group did manage to issue an edict of sorts (see Milestones) but nothing that is likely to have a meaningful impact on the problems facing the global economy.
Perhaps the problem is that hopes for the G20 were just too high. Having burst into public consciousness as the forum in which the tantalizing vision of coordinated global financial regulation was suddenly shown to be a real possibility, the G20 seemed capable of fostering some pretty remarkable changes. Although it had been in existence for almost a decade, for the first time there was a sense that through the G20 the voices of nations across the entire economic spectrum, not just the richest countries, would be heard.
Bringing together leaders from the developed and emerging markets is undoubtedly a splendid idea, but unless those leaders go into the meeting with open minds and a determination to negotiate real solutions, the forum becomes, at best, just another talking shop or, at worst, a photo op. In this case, unfortunately, it was the latter.
Opportunities to make significant, positive and lasting changes for the better don't arise often, and the G20 has just let one slip away. While it is too early to write off the G20 as an organization that can genuinely solve some of the world's most pressing transnational problems, its inability to live up to the hype certainly raises questions about its future usefulness.
Until next month.