Can the G-20 Save the World?

One Percent for the Poor

"We don't want handouts, but fair rules," says South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, who, together with an Ethiopian, will have the distinction of representing the poor at the G-20 summit.

The developing world representatives will present the conference with a program that was developed by a group of former central bankers and economists, together with German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. The commission proposes earmarking up to 1 percent of expenditures in the national economy stimulus programs for the Third World. It also wants to see the IMF's funds augmented and the distribution of votes in the organization reformed as quickly as possible.

According to the draft communiqué, the G-20 nations want to call upon the IMF to begin selling gold reserves and use the proceeds to help poor countries.

With all the talk of gold sales, financial market regulation and stimulus packages, the London summit will at least represent progress over previous years when it comes to rhetoric. But so far the foreseeable resolutions are nothing more than declarations of intent supported by scant details.

Bundle of Measures

Economists are already a few steps ahead. To prevent new credit bubbles and bank crises, they recommend an entire bundle of measures:

The international rating agencies, which rate the creditworthiness of borrowers, should be paid by the buyers of securities in the future, not by the sellers. This would eliminate the current conflicts of interest.

Trading in so-called Credit Default Swaps (CDS) must be banned. CDSs were developed as a sort of insurance policy for credit risks, but investors used them for speculation. This, says economists, must be stopped.

The minimum capital requirements for banks, known as Basel II in industry jargon, must be tightened once the crisis ends, say experts, including Hans-Werner Sinn, the head of the Munich-based Ifo economic research institute. This would prevent banks from borrowing large sums of money without sufficient assets and betting the money on risky "innovative" financial products. A bigger capital cushion would have helped each individual bank weather the crisis more effectively in recent months.

In the real estate business, mortgage banks should assume more responsibility, once again, for the loans they issue. The reselling, slicing up and repackaging of mortgage loans must be subject to tighter controls and documentation requirements.

But such concrete resolutions can hardly be expected to emerge from the London crisis summit. If anything, the heads of state will agree in principle on a set of rules, which government agencies and international bodies will then examine at length, discuss and possibly water down.

More important than the photo ops and balanced language of the final communiqué will be the changes demanded by reality. The consequences of the financial crisis will change the global economic order to a far greater extent than any resolution adopted at the London conference.

'Cannot Wait'

The world will remain in the tight grip of recession for at least another two years. Millions of people in Europe, America and Asia will lose their jobs, and the threat of social tensions and political conflict will grow.

The days are gone when the United States could more or less dominate the global economy. Europe's importance will grow, while emerging economies like China and India will expand their roles even further.

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