The G-20 Vision Is Obsolete

Where there is no vision, the people perish

Proverbs 29:18

One can't solve a problem with the same level of consciousness at which the problem arose

Albert Einstein

The final statements of the June 2010 Canada meetings of the G-8 and the G-20 make for impressive reading (G-8 Muskoka Declaration -- Recovery and New Beginnings, 25-26 June, and The G-20 Toronto Summit Declaration, June 26-27). They contain a long list of marvelous commitments through which the leaders of the advanced world decide to join forces to ensure a better future for all.

All is well then? Hardly. A closer look reveals major problems.

First of all, the flawless harmony communicated in the Declarations was not mirrored in the actual debates. There was little agreement on how to move forward, with the U.S. insisting on additional public spending to re-launch recovery, and the UK and the other European nations opting for budgetary cutbacks as the way to move forward. The proposals of the member states also had a tacit "beggar-thy-neighbor" dimension: if implemented they would serve the given nation's economy, without much regard for the sacrifices incurred by the others.

But the real problem is not the attempt to hide or smooth over internal disagreements -- that's normal procedure for international bodies. The problem is that the objectives espoused by the G-8, and the larger G-20 that incorporates the G-8, are one-sided, as if only money matters and economic growth of the kind we have known in the past can solve all problems. This suggests a vision that's terminally out of date.

In the G-20 vision the world is made up of nation-states and groups of nation-states, with national governments in charge of ensuring the national interest. Except for some frills and half-hearted regulations, the national interest is business-as-usual economic interest. The governments are to bring about "recovery," "renewed stability" and "balanced growth" in their national economies, and international cooperation is intended to rebalance the economic and financial system that the crises of the recent past has unbalanced.

The G-8 and G-20 leaders do not seem to realize that recovering and re-establishing the economic-financial order of the past is to re-create a system that's structurally unstable and no longer sustainable. They do not seem to entertain the possibility that what the world needs is not more of the same, but something radically different. A thorough transformation.

In a world where a third of the people live in abject poverty, as many if not more face critical water shortages, and where the atmosphere heats up, the climate changes, sea levels rise, and the processes enabling the regeneration of vital biological resources are seriously impaired, a classical economic focus is not just inadequate, it's obsolete. We have seen what reliance on the open market produces: abject poverty for billions, and inequality of the kind where the wealth of a few hundred billionaires equals the income on which half the world's population has to subsist. With this classical vision, the people, at least the poorer and less powerful elements of the people, will perish.

Obviously, putting more money into humanitarian projects, such as reducing infant and under-five morality, is good and necessary. But "recovery" -- in the sense of recovering the kind of system and the kind of growth that characterized the last several decades -- is not. As hardly any serious economist would contest any longer, this will only lead to more and bigger crises, and ultimately to breakdown.

Can we expect the recognition of the need for urgent and deep-seated transformation to dawn in the mind of the leaders of the world's most powerful nation-states? Evidently not. A thorough transformation would -- or is very likely to -- place in question the legitimacy of the very order that brought them to power and maintains them in power.

Re-launching the kind of growth that the world experienced in the late 20th century is not the way to go in the 21st century. The dilemma is not whether to let states and peoples undergo imminent crises, or attempt to postpone the onset of these crises; here the choice is clear. The real dilemma is whether to lead the transformation to a more sustainable system, or to be overwhelmed by the collapse of the existing one. Leading the transformation offers an opportunity for sustained leadership to those who can still steer the present system, whereas a failure here would surely lead to their demise.

The crux of the matter is that initiating the processes that would lead us to the needed transformation calls for a kind of vision the G-20 doesn't now possess. Einstein said that we can't solve a problem at the same level of consciousness that produced the problem. A kind of vision that could solve today's problems demands a new level of consciousness -- a consciousness that inspires and motivates cooperation not only by national governments, and not only in the economic and financial domain, but also in the domains of ecology, technology, education, public information, cultural contact and communication. A consciousness that in today's world the basic precondition of peace and sustainability, and even of enduring prosperity, is wide-ranging cooperation based on a solidarity that embraces transformation. A consciousness, in the last count, of the interdependence and oneness of all the people on this spaceship Earth, and the oneness of our shared destiny.

The "games" the G-20 should be playing are not inter-national games where either I win and you lose, or you win and I lose. They must be trans-national games where everyone wins. Because unless all the people win, all the people will lose. Sooner and more dramatically than the G-20 seems to believe.