When the G-20 meets in Pittsburgh next week, French President Sarkozy will urge world leaders to make two moves — one immediate and one long-term — that have the potential to temper capitalism’s worst abuses and reassert human values at the national and international levels.
Sarkozy’s aides say he will walk out of the summit of presidents and prime ministers from the world’s most developed countries if the leaders fail to endorse a plan to curb bonuses for bankers.
That’s the immediate demand. And it is an important one, as it could put the G-20 in the unusual position of trying to tame — rather than cheer on — the banksters and corporate CEOS that have so unsettled the global economy.
But even more important will be the French president’s push to “revolutionize” international definitions of development, progress and achievement.
In recent decades, those measures have pretty much begun and ended with the bottom-line details of economic growth and wealth accumulation.
But Sarkozy says he wants to use the G-20 gathering as the launching point for a “fight” against what he describes as the “cult of figures” and the “cult of the market.”
“A great revolution is waiting for us. For years, people said that finance was a formidable creator of wealth, only to discover one day that it accumulated so many risks that the world almost plunged into chaos,” argues the French leader. “The crisis doesn’t only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so.”
Sarkozy’s “revolution” would still use measures of economic growth and contraction in the analysis of a nation’s success. But the definition would be expanded beyond traditional gross domestic product (GDP) models to include measures of well-being and what Sarkozy describes as “the politics of civilization.” These include environmental sustainability, the quality of public services and the amount of time citizens of a country have to meet family responsibilities — which the French leader values as “personal services provided within a family circle.”
Sarkozy, a conservative who was elected on a platform that promised to make the French economy more efficient and workers more productive, is not proposing some new-age fix for what ails the global economy. Rather, he is arguing that it is time to “refound” capitalism within what he describes as “moral” parameters in response to the now year-old global economic downturn and an equally serious decline in public confidence about the direction of nation states.