G8 now G20







 United States



  The Free Market school of economists and politicians believe the world economy cannot be controlled and does not need controlling. In practice, the leaders of the largest industrial economies meet together at regular intervals to consult. The Club of Rome observe that the world economy has been badly mismanaged, resulting in increasing poverty in most of the world and large amounts of unemployment (1991-92) in the industrialized world, similar to the condition of 1929-1936. If the Group of 7 do make policy, they are responsible.

Meetings of heads of government were rare until the modern era. Disraeli's attendance at the 1878 Congress of Berlin (to resolve the problems of Russia and the Balkans) is supposed to have been the first modern meeting in which a "summit" occurred. This was made possible by the railway. The Versaille Peace Conference in 1919 was another - the first in which a President of the United States attended.

The first meeting was called in 1975 at Rambouillet in France to discuss the consequences of the 1973 oil crisis. The first few meetings were informal and held on an ad hoc basis to deal with sudden emergencies, such as the 1973 crisis in oil supply when the price suddenly increased and may have started a wave of inflation (though others argue that the inflation began with the Vietnam war deficit financing and the oil producers were merely trying to catch up). Nowadays the Group of 7 meets with the modern equivalent of the Field of the Cloth of Gold (1519) - large numbers of tv and press representatives.

Do the heads of government do more than talk? It is hard to know, but this seems to be at least the nucleus of a world coordinating meeting, though not a formal government of all so much as an alliance of the rich. It is sufficiently important for Gorbachov's Soviet Union to have wanted to join, though the actual strength of its economy was much less in GNP per head than the present members. Its successor Russia does attend, though its productivity has fallen considerably. The meetings are probably the outward expression of frequent talks on the phone and continuous consultation of a kind that was not possible in the period before electronic communications. It represents the evolution of diplomacy away from the professional ambassadors to the direct contact of heads of government and finance ministers and civil servants.

Is this the nucleus of a Western World Empire - what George Bush Senior called the New World Order? It is extremely hard to say and only its future development will show. Many would feel happier about the Group of 7 if the participants showed some interest in spreading prosperity to the mass of poorer people who are not part of the rich western world.

In the early days of the Cold War the world was said to be divided into:

  • First World (roughly the members of the OECD - the "developed" industrial world);
  • the Second World, the Communist countries without a market economy;
  • the Third World, the former colonial countries.

The GATT agreement on world Free Trade could allow all these countries to develop. Will they?

The July 2005 meeting of what has now become the G8 (with Russia) in Gleneagles, Scotland, was supposed to discuss the problem of poverty in Africa and Climate change. The United States (George W Bush) was expected to block agreement on both topics. It was distracted by a terrorist attack in London (7 July).

If this is a conference to rule the world, China and India should surely be there as of right, soon (and perhaps some European powers, such as Italy, be excluded).

At the July 2005 meeting the following states were also invited to come: China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Algeria and Senegal are also invited. Others present were: the Secretary General of the United Nations, the President of the European Commission, the President of the World Bank, the head of the World Trade Organisation, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

The meeting is now called the G20. The April 2009 meeting in London was to discuss the financial crash of 2008-9 and how to revive the world economy. Is this a world government in embryo?

Last revision 24/03/09


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