Chucho, Te Quiero

The quarter is progressing rapidly, as it tends to do. Good sign that things are about to get crazy and finals will soon be looming: I’ve already registered my classes for the Spring quarter. Capital Markets in Africa (super excited about that one), International Business Transactions (potentially good), Statistics III (supposedly it “pulls everything together” from Stats I and II, making all those Saturday mornings seem worthwhile after all…) and Project Management.

Ofcourse, midterm exams and essays aplenty raining down on my conscience has not stopped me from taking a moment or two to enjoy Denver life. This week, this meant spending a wicked $15 on a student-discounted ticket to see Cuban jazz piano legend, Chucho Valdes, and his backing band, the Afro-Cuban Messengers, play at the University of Denver’s Newman Center for the performing arts, which just happens to be right next to campus and literally a few blocks from my house.

The music was soulful, sultry, frenetic, powerful and energizing……imagine the wailing of a muffled trombone, punctuated by the freewheeling melodies of Chucho’s piano, infused with an infectious Afro-Caribbean rhythm. Perfect for a Valentine’s evening out in Denver with some other Korbel ladeeez.

A five-time Grammy winner, the 70 year-old piano virtuoso lifted notes from the instrument as if conjuring up a spirit – the keys flowed like a wave under his nimble fingers. If I closed my eyes, I could be sitting in a bar in Havana, sipping a mojito in the warm Cuban breeze. Ah, Havana…te quieroooo.

On that note, what better excuse to post some pictures of the most photogenic city on earth. I took these in Cuba in ’06, ’08 and ’09. It’s one of my favourite places, hence why I’m drawn to anything that’s reminsicent of it like a moth to a flame. I would highly encourage any and all to visit. Some are not aware that even as a US citizen you can still get legitimate permission to travel to Cuba on certain terms, and if not in this way, thousands of Americans choose to visit Havana each year by flying via Canada or The Bahamas…Just sayin’:

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As for topics more GFTEI related, I present to you yet another talk at Korbel by yet another distinguished visiting professor. I’d actually forgotten about Robert Wade’s talk until I read this quote from John Maynard Keynes somewhere today (a quote from 1933 no less, which reads like it could have been written in an op-ed yesterday. Man, that guy was prescient):

“The decadent international but individualistic capitalism in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war is not a success. It is not intelligent. It is not beautiful. It is not just. It is not virtuous. And it doesn’t deliver the goods. In short we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed.”

Robert Wade, professor of political economy and development at the London School of Economics, thinks its finally time (78 years later) that we stop being perplexed and take action, and has come up with his own plan to reform global governance in the face of the most recent crisis of capitalism. Wade stopped by Korbel last week to talk about why the G20 is an illegitimate, opaque, poorly-equipped grouping to manage the challenges of the global economy today and in the future, and should be replaced by a governing “Global Economic Council” that is more representative.

Global governance is a topic that has become increasingly debated since the 2008 financial crisis and prolonged economic crisis that has continues to follow. Political economists hark back to the days when global powers came together post WW2 to forge the Bretton Woods system of monetary management to stabilise the international economic system, which led to what is generally perceived to be 30 years of growth and prosperity (particularly amongst those countries who came together to forge the agreement). It’s something that we talked a lot about in my International Political Economy class last quarter, which I enjoyed a lot (yeah you probably got that by now…).

While people like Nicolas Sarkozy would like us to believe that the G20 is at the centre of achieving this goal in today’s global economy, Wade says of the grouping:”There’s no sign that it is suitable and legitimate enough to stabilise the world economy today.”

The G20 evolved out of the G7, which functioned as a “rich man’s club, with developing countries waiting for crumbs” (says Wade, and with which I tend to agree). The G7 expanded to become the G20 in the late 90s, including within its membership what it described as “systemically important” countries. In fact says Wade, its membership could not be reverse engineered and as such should be considered adhoc. As just one example, Spain has “permanent guest” status, while the Netherlands is just left out. On what basis, it cannot be determined. Same with numerous other nations. “There is no explicit criterion for membership, no mechanism of universal representation, no mechanism for adding or dropping countries as their relative economic weight changes over time,” noted Wade.

The expansion came after efforts at “outreach” by the G8 leaders to emerging economies – which, Wade said, saw “emerging market leaders invited to G8 summits for breakfast, or maybe dinner” where they would get very little substantial input or engagement from the G8 leaders – failed to quell growing complaints about the grouping’s legitimacy (“I didn’t come here to drink coffee,” Wade quoted one Brazilian minister as saying…), and after the financial crisis of 2008 generally “undermined the legitimacy of neoliberal norms, the US, UK and G7 leadership”.

“They (G8 leaders) woke up and realised they needed to make a better offer of power” to other countries, said Wade.

The G20 Summit of heads of state met for the first time in November 2008 as the financial crisis bore down, calling itself the “premier economic forum”. It went on to upgrade itself from “a crisis committee to a steering committee”, said Wade.

But while its action in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis did have some positive impacts – “fellowship in a lifeboat” is how Wade describes it – and its membership is now of a broader nature that includes the critical BRIC economies, it has since only sought to expand its influence whilst providing no further basis for legitimacy. Meanwhile, despite having no secretariat through which to formally exercise its authority, it has sought to sway global outcomes in favour of its membership informally through the World Bank – much to the chagrin of non-G20 Executive Directors at that institution, claims Wade.

“Senior officials outside the G20 see the G20 as acting in an illegitimate way,” he added.

The Global Economic Council proposed by Wade would be based on the principle of universal representation and inclusion and would “pave the way for the G20 to exercise real authority” in governing the global economy, claims Wade. The Global Economic Council would determine its members “by region, and by economic weight”. Four world “regions”, each with 16 seats on the council, would be represented.

However, Wade concluded that the “degree of consensus needed to establish the GEC will probably require more crisis.”

While I do believe that the G20 lacks legitimacy, What seemed strange to me is that Wade had come to a conclusion on how it should be reformed without reaching any conclusion on what its mandate should be once it is “properly constituted”, and how this will be enforced, or if it will simply be a talking shop.

Being the cynic that I am, I also doubt this kind of representative expansion into a Global Economic Council really result in much more “representation” in reality. As Thucydides told us, “The Strong will do what they can, the weak will suffer what they must.” Except that under a Global Economic Council, you would have the same core countries ultimately calling the shots but this time with a more impenetrable facade of legitimacy and inclusion, but a facade nonetheless. But I definitely agree that the face of global governance is an area which is ripe for further investigation by academics – which could mean you or I – unless we wish to find ourselves without a legitimate reason to complain when powerful leaders shape these “institutions” as they please.

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Posted on February 17, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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