Why the G20 can't deliver
The G20 response to the economic crisis has nothing to do with protecting the poor or saving the planet, and everything to do with recovering profit for multinational corporations.
Last week we were treated to yet another spectacle of elite power confronting grass-roots protest, as G20 leaders convened in London while tens of thousands took to the streets. The corporate media offered little coverage of grass-roots agendas before the event, choosing rather to parrot police scaremongering as they predicted a bloody riot and assaults on businessmen. Needless to say, nothing of the sort transpired. It was, rather, an uninvolved passerby who collapsed and died after police shoved him to the ground and denied him medical care, while dozens of protestors were injured by police batons and suffered dehydration as they were trapped for hours in police cordons.
Yet even these tactics could not fully obscure the message from the streets. The banners and costumes showed that the thousands who braved police intimidation in London's financial district were not making any demands on world leaders. Rather, they were expressing rejection of the capitalist system as a whole, renouncing the very legitimacy of the G20 governments' hold on power. It is here that the gulf between governments and governed remains unbreachable. Yet even more moderate but significant steps to restructure the world economy in the interests of workers and the environment were not forthcoming from the summit. What we received instead was the same blind commitment to "prosperity through free markets," a spurious trickle-down economics that benefits the best-off while promising the rest scraps from the table.
It is evident that the G20 response to the economic crisis has nothing to do with protecting the poor or saving the planet, and everything to do with recovering profit for multinational corporations while shifting the costs of the crisis to developing countries, the workers and the unemployed.
The centerpiece of the G20's recovery plan is a $1.1-trillion boost for the International Monetary Fund, which will remain the major funnel for financing the longed-for economic recovery. The plan is especially directed at developing countries and "emerging markets" - i.e., countries in the former Soviet bloc, as well as China, which are in transition to capitalism.
Yet notice the unbelievable double standard being applied here. Earlier this year, the United States and European governments simply handed out billions, no strings attached, to the banks and insurance firms that largely brought on the finance crash. The IMF boost, on the other hand, will be handed out to nobody. Instead, it will be lent, with interest, to governments already mired in debt. The IMF may promise a "reformed and more flexible lending and conditionality framework" for eligible countries to "address stigma concerns" (read: resistance to the fund's free-market fundamentalism), yet it remains to be seen whether the new trillion will be lent under any-less-draconian conditions of structural adjustment, privatization and cuts in social spending.
The second part of the G20 program deals with financial regulation, and is clearly intended to help defuse public resentment toward banks, investment firms, hedge funds and anyone who makes money from money. The steps laid out in the Leaders' Declaration and its first annex ("Strengthening the Financial System") are ostensibly regulatory measures intended to rein in these actors and increase government regulation. These include creation of a financial stability board to oversee countries' performance, and pressure on tax havens like Switzerland and Gibraltar for disclosure and transparency.
Yet it is questionable whether these steps are indeed motivated by a desire to impose democratic restraints on corporate activity. What we are witnessing may be an attempt to exploit the current crisis to streamline state-corporate relations, which will result in an integrated apparatus that will reduce frictions between financial and political elites so they can act in concert to serve the long-term interests of the exploitative system as a whole.
On the environmental level, the results are even weaker. While paying lip service to concerns about pollution and global warming, by promising a "green recovery" through investment in new technologies and low-carbon energy, the G20 failed to undertake any binding commitments. Moreover, President Barack Obama's declaration of his and his fellow leaders' commitment to achieve "sustained growth" betrays a complete failure (or refusal) to internalize the basic environmental message that scientists and activists have been trying to get across for decades: There cannot be infinite growth on a finite planet.
In Paris earlier this year, more than 150 representatives of trade unions, farmers' movements, anti-poverty groups and environmental, migrant and women's groups signed their own declaration in response to the financial crisis. To them it was evident that governmental proposals to deal with the unfolding crisis "do not address the other dimensions of the crisis we face today - global justice, food, climate and energy - and with it the need to transform the economic system toward one that allows us to satisfy the basic needs of all people, to implement all human rights and to restore and preserve the ecological basis of life on our planet."
Instead of more debt and streamlined financial exploitation, social movements around the world are calling for a system based on the principles of public benefit, global equity, justice, environmental sustainability and democratic control. These are not results that the G20 can ever be expected to deliver - it is a world that we will have to create and defend by ourselves.
Uri Gordon is the author of "Anarchy Alive!: Anti-authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory" (Pluto Press). www.anarchyalive.com