This is not only the worst global economic downturn of the post-World War II era; it is the first serious global downturn of the modern era of globalization. America’s financial markets failed to do what they should have done–manage risk and allocate capital well–and these failures have had a major impact all over the world. Globalization, too, did not work the way it was supposed to. It helped spread the consequences of the failures of US financial markets around the world. September 11, 2001, taught us that with globalization not only do good things travel more easily across borders; bad things do too. September 15, 2008, has reinforced that lesson.
A global downturn requires a global response. But so far our responses–to stimulate and regulate the global economy–have largely been framed at the national level and often take insufficient account of the effect on others. The result is that there is less coordination than there should be, as well as a smaller and less well-designed stimulus than is optimal. A poorly designed and insufficient stimulus means that the downturn will last longer, the recovery will be slower and there will be more innocent victims. Among these victims are the many developing countries–including those that have had far better regulatory and macroeconomic policies than the United States and some European countries. In the United States a financial crisis transformed itself into an economic crisis; in many developing countries the economic downturn is creating a financial crisis.
The world has two choices: either we move to a better global regulatory system, or we lose some of the important benefits that have resulted from globalization. But continuing the status quo management of globalization is no longer tenable; too many countries have had to pay too high a price. The G-20’s response to the global economic crisis, crafted at meetings in November in Washington and in April in London, was a beginning–but just a beginning. It did not do enough to address the short-term problems nor did it put in place the long-term restructuring necessary to prevent another crisis.
A United Nations meeting in late June hopes to continue the global discussion begun at earlier G-20 meetings and to extend this discussion to what went wrong in the first place so that we can do a better job of preventing another crisis. The global politics of this meeting are complex. Many of the 173 countries that are not members of the G-20 argue that decisions affecting the lives of their citizens should not be made by a self-selected club that lacks political legitimacy. Some members of the G-20–including new members brought into the discussion for the first time as the G-8 expanded to the G-20–like things the way they are; they like being in the inner circle and argue that enlarging it will only complicate matters. Many from the advanced industrial countries would like to avoid overly harsh criticism of their banks, which played a pivotal role in the crisis, or of the international economic institutions that not only failed to prevent the crisis but pushed the deregulatory policies that contributed so much to it and its rapid spread around the world. Indeed, the G-20’s response to the crisis in developing countries relied centrally on the IMF.