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G-20 Summits Still Pointless and Irrelevant

Last week’s re-elect Nicolas Sarkozy rally, also known as the G-20 economic summit in Cannes, sputtered to a predictably lame conclusion.  Many photos of world “leaders” arm in arm were snapped; nothing of substance was decided or done.  As usual there was plenty of speculation in advance that something earth shaking would transpire; the press is not nearly as cynical about these events as it should be and no less august a news source than the Washington Post briefly lapsed into optimism about the prospects for an agreement to address the monumental problems for the global economy posed by the crisis in the eurozone.

Once again, though, Lucy snatched the football away before Charlie Brown could get in a kick.

Instead, as Wolfgang Münchau describes in the FT, what breathless globaloney journalists and government flacks describe as the world’s most powerful supranational body proved once again that it is ill-equipped to produce much more than hot air. If world leaders actually cared a fig about carbon emissions, these summits would die a quick and merciful death.

Reminder to all students and other persons trying to follow the news in a serious way: G-20 summits are NOT NEWS.  They are taxpayer funded campaign ad photo ops for incumbents combined with ego boosts for insecure powers.  The G-20 is as large and unwieldy as it is so that none of the lesser members of the G-8 (its predecessor as supreme pointless gabfest) would have to step down from the high table.  (The idea was the brainchild of a Canadian, presumably fearful that if something wasn’t done existing marginal G-8 members would be thrown under the bus and countries like Canada would have to move over for China and India.)  Real decisions are not made at this forum, but the press likes going to places like Cannes and for reasons unfathomable to Via Meadia, management is still willing to pay.

The air seems to be leaking out of this particular hot air balloon, however.  Two summits were originally scheduled for each year; after the Cannes flop they are cutting back to one.  They could probably cut it back to a group email.  The world’s biggest economies do have things to discuss, it is a good thing that the leaders of important countries develop some sense of each other as people, and it is worth stroking the egos of prickly countries who aren’t sure that anybody really believes they are “emerging” yet.  There are better ways of getting all these things done, however, that raising false hopes of grand international agreements.

Following the news intelligently involves knowing what to ignore; otherwise you will be overwhelmed by the press’ fixation on fripperies and fluff.  In general, anytime a story features a G followed by a hyphen and a number, you should move on to something more important, like this vital story about two-headed snakes.

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