The G20 summit should commit to growth

By Gordon Brown
November 2, 2011

By Gordon Brown
The views expressed are his own.

The build-up to the G20 summit has been dominated by the euro’s failings. With Europe now the epicenter of the global crisis, its continued weakness will dominate the G20 discussions. Even now, uncertainties about Greece’s future — and about the real strength of Europe’s commitment to its new stability fund — has left little opportunity for a focus on the global economy as a whole.

But even if the state of the world economy has featured less than the euro in the preparatory work for the summit, the decisions world leaders will make on the global economy will dictate the mood of the coming two years. President Sarkozy has major global initiatives he will unveil to improve global food security, and may even force his plan for a global financial levy on the agenda. But there is a big choice the G20 must make. Either the world will come together and agree on a coordinated growth plan — or we will retreat into a new, more acrimonious protectionism.

Already the head of the World Trade Organization is warning of a return to protectionism, and every day we find yet another new country following Brazil, Switzerland, Indian, Korea, and Japan in introducing either new tariffs, currency controls, or capital controls. In response, the draft G20 communiqué assumes a free trade world where each continent steps up what it is doing in order to achieve sustained growth.

But a G20 that was really working would take countries far beyond the current draft communiqué — which is a set of bland statements about what each country is doing on its own to foster growth. Instead it would focus on coordinated  measures under which countries would agree to support and complement each other’s contribution. If , under an agreed growth pact, China increased consumer spending and Asia opened its markets, and if this was balanced by America and Europe investing more in infrastructure,  then over a three year period — as the IMF has suggested — there could be 5 percent more growth and 25-50 million more jobs, with 100 million people taken out of poverty.

A ccordinated  approach is desirable because under current policies every country wants to export its way to growth and no one wants to import. But cooperation is not just an option; it is, in my view, a necessity because the world is precariously balanced between a west that consumes the most, and the rest of the world which now produces the most. For 150 years until now, Europe and America monopolized the world’s output, exports, manufacturing, investment and consumption. But in 2010 for the first time America and Europe were out-produced, out-exported, out-manufactured and out-invested by the rest of the world. Today they account for just 41 percent of output, 43 percent of manufactured goods, 47 percent of trade, and 40 percent of investment. But they account for 55 percent of consumption and, if we added other advanced economies, the figure would be 70 percent.

A better understanding between the consumer countries and the producer countries would make for more balanced and more sustainable growth. Indeed, if  China was confident its export market could be sustained then it might be more willing to increase domestic consumption, and if America was confident its export markets could flourish then we would have a more confident American consumer and more  private  investment at home. This was what was envisaged by the April 2009 summit of the G2O and then in the detail of the growth pact agreed to at the Pittsburgh summit in autumn 2009.  Unfortunately in 2010 the growth pact has descended into a dispute over currencies, with the American senate now calling China a currency manipulator. A brave attempt by Korea to break from the currency dispute and accelerate growth by putting ceilings on surpluses and deficits failed.

A return to the growth pact idea of 2009 is now the best way forward. It would take countries far beyond bland statements of what each are doing on their own to something far more fruitful,  a genuine attempt to coordinate measures for shared  growth. Only this heightened level of cooperation can prevent the G20 suffer as big a decline in its power as the world economy.

PHOTO: A woman strolls up to a bus stop on the promenade in Cannes, southern France November 1, 2011. Cannes will host a two-day G2O summit from November 3. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

15 comments

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Stimulating with borrowed money doesn’t bring growth any longer: the public is too smart, education levels are high and all know an increase in tax bills is only postponed. This is unfortunate for politicians that want play santaclaus with “free money”. Keynes’ theory doesn’t work in the internet age and this has now been proven over and over again. We could even make it a physical law: “Stimulating, yes. But only with surpluses”. Welcome to 2011.

The real solution to the problem is clear: Cut the deficits. Hope, trust and growth will follow. If a country’s deficits are too high, actions too slow, protection barriers too high, corruption too high, decline is inevitable. How many real world examples does one need ? If we continue on this path, only oil-struck Norway will survive the crisis.

Posted by FBreughel1 | Report as abusive

There can only be a “coordinated growth plan” for the world when a consensus is reached between nations as to each continent’s obligations if SUSTAINABLE growth is to be possible or achieved. The purchase of goods from developing nations by developed nations has raised the standard of living for many, largely offset by a decrease in the standard of living of some citizens in said developed nations.

This has gone about as far as it can, giving that increasing unemployment is lowering the “return on human investment” necessary in the developed nations. Some of these nations have advanced their standard of living by partnering with the developed nations to extract natural resource assets otherwise out of reach and sell these on the world market.

That predictable starts the clock ticking on those developing nations to use at least part of their income from the sale of depletable resources to educate their citizens and diversify their economies to be sustainable AFTER the oil, diamonds, gold, etc. is gone. To date few have showed such wisdom.

Instead, all too many continue down the path to eternal poverty by refusing to moderate the explosion of a largely ignorant and illiterate population whose standard of living is, day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year less and less.

In the U.S. we have those of little vision, educated idiots, who suggest that “the current population of the world will fit in Texas”, “you can fly over Africa and still see green”, and eulogize on the lightness of the “footprint” of each impoverished African. Their myopic “pro-life” agenda would be more accurately described as “quantity of life over quality of life”. Their future is not the future forecast by Star Trek.

They forget that ALL of Texas is owned. Who would buy it to give away”. I won’t sell my acres! Given that humanity CAN cover more and more of the earth with human protoplasm I utterly fail to understand WHY we SHOULD! I refuse to meekly stand silent and watch those prevail who desire a future where man returns to living in mud huts scrounging for insects and tubers for his miserable existence, even if I could make a killing in “prefabricated caves” along the way.

If our future is to be different, let us at least make absolutely sure it is not increasingly worse. The last several years have been worse for many Americans. How many want that change to be permanent? No thanks!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Apparently Mr. Brown always writes with the implied assumption that these meetings could produce solid results; they cannot. There is no “one world government”, and every country would have to agree to implement any changes. I am certain that any such attempt would be an interesting battle, to say the least, here in the US.

Absent any mention of sovereignty, these analysis pieces are rather light in substance.

Posted by stevedebi | Report as abusive

The headline is retarded “should commit to growth”. To what end? for who? – for corporate profit? This is finite world. Consumption and growth need to be curbed back and managed in equilibrium. Growth for the sake of economies is not sustainable in a finite world.

How does alchohol growth work inside a beer vat? Eventually it ceases when it hits that finite boundary where it can no longer grow.

I really don’t want a larger world population to sustain growing an economy. I would rather move to technological advancements where we do less work across the board versus supporting laws that allow greedy folks to control untold wealth and power over many.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

@FBreughel1, you should have shared your wisdom with the Greeks.

But Gordon, of course you’re right. You showed the Brits how to do it, now the rest of the world.

Posted by Lambick | Report as abusive

Gordon, read our lips. The market needs growth, the people need sustainability.

Posted by diddums | Report as abusive

Most people in the UK have experienced Brown economics learnt on the hoof so I am very puzzled as to why reuters wants to give any space to a rather disgraced ex PM and Chancellor

Posted by charlieboy | Report as abusive

Advice from the man who destroyed the very fabric of the British society and its finances!!
I would rather take an advice from my Lawn Mower than this man who was running like a headless chicken.
It is the sign of the times when people like him are given space at Reuters.

Posted by invisiblesilvie | Report as abusive

Mr Brown (and his predecessor) made some big mistakes (over extending UK borrowing) leading up to 2008/9, then events overtook him and the UK Government along with all the other borrowing nations. Sensible borrowing that is used for improving infrastructure, industrial modernisation, education, health care etc can be good for the nation in the long run. Borrowing to fund futile wars, to prop up despotic regimes, to pay large numbers of the population not to work etc is a recipe for disaster.
Pouring borrowed money into banking/financial markets to cover up their gross stupidity is in fact gross stupidity.
To then expect the taxpayers to shoulder such burdens is an offence against common sense and fairness.
The western nations need to unite in their approach to solving this problem and all those policy makers must be held to account by law so that they do not put at risk the livelihoods of the vast majority of people (voters, taxpayers….). They get themselves elected and then do nothing to help those who elected them. Similarly the banks/financial sectors steal from the poor to fund the rich with a proportion of wealth way beyond what is reasonable for the vast majority. Both the political establishment and global banking/financial/corporate sectors are in this together for their own interests, the rest of us are just pawns in this gigantic and fraudulent chess game.
At the heart of this lies greed, dishonesty and stupidity. There is enough for every nation and within each nation there is enough for all, the problem is too few have too much and too many have too little. Governments are not regulating this for the benefit of their people, they (government) are part of the problem.
In the past, war has followed these conditions and it is the many (ordinary) who usually suffer in war so that these corrupt systems continue (possibly modified) into the future. Brown does not have all the answers and it seems no one else has either! Where are the leaders and what are they doing, I cannot see it.

Posted by TommyUK1 | Report as abusive

Why is Reuters giving air time to this idiot Brown?

I would have thought, a respectable organisation like Reuters would run a mile from a man, Mr End to Boom & Bust, who inherited an economy in surplus – and then proceeded to comprehensively destroy that same economy! His destruction was so appalling, that the children of the electorate when he was PM, will be paying for his gross incompetence.

Then, we come to Brown’s Treason – Reuters seem to have overlooked the fact that Brown betrayed the UK to his masters in Brussels!

Oh, and don’t forget Brown’s destruction of the UK’s education system, the manufacturing base, the nation’s pension provision, the armed force; he let the banks run riot – sat & watched like a panda!

Perhaps Reuters should consider their reputation a little more closely before giving Brown any more publicity!

My kids will be paying for what that, I hesitate to use the word…”man” did!

Posted by mgb500 | Report as abusive

mgb500
I think you have got one or two thing distorted in your response.
When Labour came to power they had to refinance and rebuild the education sector because the Conservatives had stripped it to the bone. I know this from my own experiences working within the education sector from 1982 until I retired 2 years ago.
Also, it was Margaret Thatchers successive Governments that allowed our Industrial/manufacturing base to be destroyed in favour of our continental friends wishes and to satisfy her own political dogma against the Miners. I doubt that your children will be paying for Mr Browns mistakes, it is the catastrphic failure of the financial/banking sectors we will all be paying for. They are beyond Government control now and have been for a long time. We as a nation are also partly to blame for the state of our economy, how many of you actually buy British? I bet most of you buy from China/Taiwan/Japan/Germany etc, without thinking of the balance of payments deficit or indeed British jobs!! I have observed people in Germany over many visits, they always buy German first, second and third.

Posted by Tommyuk | Report as abusive

@mgb500
The greatest culprits against a safe future of the world economy have (I think unknowingly at the time) been Thatcher and Reagan in the eighties. Ultra liberal supply side economics is eventually to lead to the greatest loss in employment in the productive (as opposed to the financial = gambling)sector.

Regrettably most left wing parties in the west did follow that “religion”..probably because it seemed to be working well at the time (before Internet and the opening up of state controlled economies). And regrettably they never have seen and still do not see the light in the tunnel behind them…..(they have to make a U-turn as regards these policies)And far as Europe goes, I think quite a bit of blame may be put on the way quality was (not) controlled in British Industry in that period. Compare a BMW of that time with a Rover……More emphasis should have been put on proper work ethics.

Finally another sentence put down in Mr Brown’s previous blog about this “attitude”

“Problem is politics is not about politics (the representation of people) anymore but there seems to be just one policy all over the board, representing markets, markets and markets…se Question Time last thursday Peter Hitchens was in my opinion the only one with the right attitude towards an electorate. I was furthermore flabbergasted by the way that according to a couple of members of the panel religion apparently has turned into something that is used as a cover against, rather than a believe …in a better future….FOR HUMANITY (rather than for capital…the legal pyramid game that is costing us our pensions for instance ..(I should be about to retire).

Posted by Checksbalances | Report as abusive

@TommyUK1
There is only one answer…control the economy (like the Chinese do) and then specifically the financial markets let economy work for the people in stead of against them. Keep finance at a short lead. After all there is an inherent conflict of interest(dualism) between financial economists (cost cutting…supply side) and social economists (growth through employment), the latter jobs have to be paid by the income out of production and if you outsource that……

Posted by Checksbalances | Report as abusive

@FBreughel1 Supply side economy creates ever more deficits…in an ultra liberal economic landscape it creates poverty…that should be changed…less economic liberalism please!

Posted by Checksbalances | Report as abusive

Checksbalances
For the UK economy to serve the interests of the UK population then Government control as you set it out would only work if we had impartial politicians(to the banks/finacial sectors, fuel cartels, Brussels and the like) and these politicians would have to operate in accordance with their election manifestos. I do not see a lot of evidence for this now or indeed over the last 30 years. The UK political system has intrinsic problems of corrupted values and a total lack of honesty when addressing peoples concerns. They are only interested in one thing, their own ambitions. People need some protection against rampant capitalism, for this to be so, we must then constrain market capitalism within limits that give a sufficient level of protection.
The constant attack on pensions, salaries and working conditions driving down of the ordinary persons ambitions can only lead to strife.

Posted by Tommyuk | Report as abusive