WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Despite being greeted at the G-20 Summit in London by thousands of protestors–some carrying signs reading “Capitalism isn’t working,” and calling for world action to eradicate homelessness–President Barack Obama declared the meeting of the leaders of the world’s largest economies a success.
“Earlier today, we finished a very productive summit that will be, I believe, a turning point in our pursuit of global economic recovery,” Mr. Obama told a post-summit press conference April 2.
“By any measure, the London summit was historic. It was historic because of the size and the scope of the challenges that we face, and because of the timeliness and magnitude of our response.”
The response included a pledge to overhaul financial regulation in industrialized countries and a promise to spend more than $1.1 trillion on loans and financial guarantees to struggling economies. In a nine-page declaration, G-20 leaders outlined a series of voluntary steps, including regulating hedge funds, cracking down on tax havens, and increasing international lending.
Demonstrators represented a diverse group of interests, including those lobbying for action against the banks, greater protection of the environment and some just advocating anarchy, according to published reports.
Meanwhile, African countries alone need at least a $580 billion rescue package, the aid group Oxfam told the BBC. Other international aid agencies expressed concerns that the needs of developing countries in Africa and elsewhere not be forgotten by the Group of 20, the world’s largest economies.
“About $580 billion we think is what is needed to service a stimulus in the African continent,” Oxfam’s regional manager in Kenya, Michael Obriane, told the BBC’s Network Africa program. “You can’t do a fiscal stimulus if you’re an African economy, because you’ve no money,” he said.
“One of the concerns at the moment is that 17 of the G-20 countries have actually brought in various protectionist measures since the start of the crisis,” Mr. Obriane said. Oxfam also called for reform of global governance, to give developing countries the same say as rich countries in decision-making at the global level. South Africa, which has so far avoided a recession, was the only African country among the G-20.
Mr. Obama went into the summit–his first overseas trip as president–aiming to persuade reluctant European countries to commit to more direct stimulus spending. While Mr. Obama won praise for his diplomacy and popular personal charm and style, the world leaders instead decided that funding for the International Monetary Fund would be quadrupled with a commitment of $1 trillion. In addition, a new global Financial Stability Board was established to warn of a future financial crisis.
“Ultimately, the only way out of a recession that is global in scope is with a response that is global in coordination,” President Obama said in his weekly Internet and radio address April 4. “All of us are now moving aggressively to get our banks lending again. All of us are working to spur growth and create jobs. And all of us have agreed on the most sweeping reform of our financial regulatory framework in a generation–reform that will help end the risky speculation and market abuses that have cost so many people so much.”
Through private meetings with leaders of China and Russia, Mr. Obama said the United States “has made real and unprecedented progress” toward strengthening alliances and finding common ground on economic and national security issues. His radio address amplified the message he delivered consistently during the summit: America can no longer go it alone.
While the often noisy demonstrations led to bloody clashes with police and dozens of arrests, they should not be the focus of attention by progressive forces, according to one current member and one former member of the British Parliament.
“I don’t approve of that kind of thing,” Parliamentarian George Galloway told Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! April 1, in response to reports of sporadic violence erupting during the demonstrations.
“This setting curtains on fire will burn people indiscriminately. And I do think that it is important that we don’t play up to the stereotypes of the media presentation of the G-20 protests, which are, in the main, and ought to be protests against the inhuman, dehumanizing impact of globalized capitalism and its failure,” he said.
Capitalism, Mr. Galloway continued, “was dehumanizing and inhuman when it was profitable. Now that it’s bankrupt, it is even worse, and people are suffering, their lives diminished and degraded, some lives lost, actually, as a result of that globalized capitalism. We say there is a better way, there can be a better way. And we need a human economic system, an alternative economic system. You won’t get that by setting fire to the curtains in the local bank.”
One of the longest serving Labor Party MPs agreed. “Mass unemployment; foreclosures of people on their homes, which is a disgrace; money spent on war, which goes on and on–there’s a threat to Iran now from the new Israeli government–and people say we are not prepared to accept it,” Tony Benn, who served for 50 years in Parliament before retiring to lead the Stop The War Coalition, told Democracy Now! April 2.
“I don’t think these are protests, because a protest, you say, ‘I’ve lost the battle, and I don’t like it.’ These are demands. And all progress is really made when people make demands upon the government. We will not accept war. We will not accept unemployment. And so, that’s the situation we’re in now,” Mr. Benn said.
Economists have also recently targeted capitalism itself as a major culprit in the crisis. “We want trickle-up economics, not trickle-down economics,” Robin Hahnel, professor emeritus at American University and now a visiting professor at Portland State University, wrote in The Times of London Online. “We want a dramatic redistribution of income and wealth that reverses the trend of the past 30 years because it is fair, and also because it makes capitalism less prone to crisis by providing a reliable source of demand for businesses satisfying the needs of ordinary people.
“Our slogan: ‘A better world is possible,’ means that we reject the economics of competition and greed as a human necessity and embrace the possibility of an economics of equitable co-operation,” Prof. Hahnel continued. “These approaches to solving our economic problems are fundamentally different. One way motivates people through fear and greed and pretends that market competition can be relied on to bend egotistical behavior to serve the social interest, when too often it does not. The other way organizes people to arrange their own division of labor and negotiate how to share the efficiency gains from having done so equitably.
“This way motivates people to work at tasks that are not always pleasant, and to consume less than they sometimes wish, because they agreed to do so, secure in the knowledge that others are doing likewise. The driving force behind our economic world is participation and fairness, no longer fear and greed,” he said.
For his part, President Obama declared the summit a success and praised the leaders of the most powerful countries for their cooperation. “Now, keep in mind–I think that this kind of coordination really is historic,” Mr. Obama told reporters April 2.
“I said in the meeting that if you had imagined 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, that you’d have the leaders of Germany, France, China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, a president of the United States named Obama, former adversaries, in some cases former mortal enemies, negotiating this swiftly on behalf of fixing the global economy, you would have said, that’s crazy. And yet it was happening, and it happened with relatively little–relatively few hiccups.”
Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama continued to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg, France, where the leaders were met with violent anti-NATO demonstrations. Police and demonstrators clashed less than two miles from the gathering of world leaders. Mrs. Obama and other spouses were forced to cancel a visit to a cancer hospital out of concern for security.