The Great Debate UK
So keen is the British prime minister to airbrush out his decade as a "light touch" finance minister that he embraced the heretical idea of a levy on financial transactions as one way to make banks pay for future bail-outs -- the so-called Tobin tax.
The idea was swiftly slapped down by the Americans and Canadians, although it enjoys warm support in Europe. But Brown's Damascene conversion may have more to do with British politics than international finance.
Facing public fury over the tens of billions of pounds spent on bailing out British banks, Brown needs to reassert leadership on the global economy and show he is on the side of voters, not bankers, if he is to have any chance of averting likely defeat at a general election next year.
The European Union has been at the forefront in pressing for binding, internationally monitored reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and funding from industrialised countries to help developing nations switch to clean energy.
from Africa News blog:
Activists often say that the world is not paying enough attention to Sudan's Darfur crisis. But could the opposite be true -- that Darfur is actually getting too much attention, from too many organisations, all at the same time?
A rough count shows at least 10 international and local initiatives searching for a solution to the region's festering conflict. Many of them are at least nominally coordinated by the United Nation and the African Union. But with so many parallel programmes in play, the opportunities for duplication, competition and confusion are legion.
Climate change was initially billed in a leading role at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. Now it looks set to make the briefest of cameo appearances.
Nonetheless, the gathering offers a crucial chance to recast the talks. The United Nations carbon process is in deep trouble and desperately needs help from the top. If the G20 heads of government want to avoid embarrassment at the Copenhagen Summit, they need to start to steer the talks in a new direction.
No longer just a hopeless cause for anti-capitalist activists, the idea of a global tax on financial transactions is gaining ground in Europe.
European Union leaders could not agree to put it on the agenda of this week's G20 summit on reforming the financial system in Pittsburgh, but the leaders of France, Germany and the European Commission endorsed the concept.
More strikingly, the head of Britain's Financial Services Authority, which regulates the world's second biggest banking centre, said last month that such a levy could help shrink a swollen financial sector.
After just six weeks as NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has his first crisis. The alliance may be slowly bleeding in an intractable war in Afghanistan, but the immediate cause is the U.S. administration's decision to shelve a planned missile shield due to have been built in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The shield, energetically promoted by former President George W. Bush, was designed to intercept a small number of missiles fired by Iran or some other "rogue state". But Russia saw it as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and NATO's new east European members saw it as a useful deterrent against Russian bullying, by putting U.S. strategic assets on their soil.
President Barack Obama's decision to impose safeguard tariffs on imported tyres from China has drawn predictable howls of outrage from economists, think tank staff and editorial writers -- none of whom has seen their job exported to China. It would be more constructive if they devoted the same effort to devising ways to compensate losers from globalisation in order to shore up waning public support for trade liberalisation.
Between 2000 and 2008, almost 4 million jobs were lost in U.S. manufacturing (22 percent of the total), many as the result of offshoring and increasing competition from lower-cost manufacturers in China and elsewhere in Asia.
Over the same period, the federal government provided just $1 billion per year in extended unemployment benefits and retraining under the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) programme. In the fiscal year ending September 2008, TAA helped fewer than 100,000 workers who had lost jobs as a result of changing trade patterns.
In 1873, Walter Bagehot wrote that "the business of banking ought to be simple; if it is hard it is wrong." He would have struggled to recognize today's banking system.
It is not just ever more ornate derivatives that bend the mind. Financial firms themselves have become fabulously complicated. Citigroup lists 2,061 subsidiaries and affiliates while the institutional chart of JPMorgan Chase is 267 pages long.
It beggars belief that humbled telecom equipment supplier Alcatel-Lucent could be scooped up by a Chinese rival with nothing better to do. Huawei or ZTE seem credible candidates. The question is, why would they ever bother?
That didn't stop shares of Alcatel-Lucent from rocketing up as much as 21 percent on Wednesday on rumors of an unnamed suitor. Momentum was helped by a rating upgrade on the depressed stock by French broker Natixis. The shares later settled back somewhat to trade at 2.75 euros, up 12 percent on the day in Paris.
Around the world, governments are struggling to drum up buyers for the mountain of bonds they need to sell. And that's especially true for big deficit, low savings countries like Britain and the United States.
The returns they are offering on conventional government bonds are low and there's the risk of inflation eating away at their value. Perhaps it is time for a different approach.