Rhetoric threatens to outweigh reality at G20 events

By Stanley Crossick
0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, July 1, 2010
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Was the Toronto G20 summit from June 26 to 27 an impetus for action or a display of rhetoric? This is a difficult question to answer.

The Toronto negotiations began well before the meeting. For instance, US President Barack Obama wrote to the G20 leaders well ahead of the summit, warning of the dangers of too much austerity at this juncture. This was leaked to the press to underscore his own stimulus policies.

Obama's letter prompted a strong reaction, particularly in Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse.

While Obama argued that the solution to the economic problems is for everyone to help each other grow out of the crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble responded by arguing in public that there is a need to save our way out of the crisis. After a telephone conversation with the US president, the German chancellor said that Obama had not criticized Germany.

The trouble is that political leaders frequently say one thing to each other and another to their domestic audiences, there being a fine line between what they really think and what image it is safe to portray in public. It can seem as if leaders' actions at such global events are more about the message they wish to send than the substance of their actions.

The US administration is under attack from Republicans and some centrist Democrats for spending too much.

Polls have shown rising public concern about deficits. Germany's fiscal plan is actually less draconian and more backloaded than it appears.

At present, economists are divided as to whether the remedy to the economic crisis is austerity and immediate deficit-cutting at the expense of growth, or that the primary focus should be on growth, even if it involves more incentive spending.

The US, at present, generally favors the second option, while the European countries are moving toward fiscal austerity, typified by the spending cuts introduced by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government in the UK.

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