Tuesday, June 12, 2018

G-7 and the Perils of Cultural Decadence

The whiners are out in force, denouncing President Trump’s behavior after the G-7 meeting. At times like these, we need a sober assessment of what went on. But before that, we need to know what the G-7 is, where it came from, what it can and cannot do. That means: we need to begin with some facts.

For those we turn to George Friedman. As opposed to many, Friedman offers a dispassionate analysis of the confab and its relevance.

He begins:

What we now call the G-7 was meant to be an organization of the leading industrial countries in the world. It originated in the 1970s in response to the Arab oil embargo, which had hit the industrial world hard. It hit back by forming an entity that represented the major industrial powers that were struggling with high energy prices.

Did it succeed in its defined task? Not so much, Friedman continues:

What the group was supposed to do remains unclear. What’s clear is that it accomplished very little. It didn’t speak with one voice, nor did the supply and demand of oil give the group much leverage over OPEC. So the group convened a summit and issued communiques, and what had been a response to a specific event became an annual meeting.

Now that it lacks any real purpose, the G-7 has become a place for the world’s leading economic powers to convene. Unfortunately, the member states of the G-7 are no longer the world’s leading economic powers:

Without a specific purpose, it has become a meeting of the world’s major economic powers. Except that some of the leading economic powers in 1973 are no longer the leading powers in 2018. Its members – the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and the United Kingdom – are relatively unchanged. But Italy now has the eighth-largest economy. Canada has the 10th-largest economy. Russia, now the 11th-largest economy, was part of a G-8 for a while, but it was banished because of its behavior in Crimea. But most important, China and India boast the second- and seventh-largest economies in the world and yet are not members.

In other words, it’s more about nostalgia than about economic power. If the composition were updated, the agenda would clearly shift:

If the G-7 were constituted by the top seven economies in the world, it would probably hold different meetings with different agendas. Not having China and India at the table, after all, makes any decisions taken on economic matters of limited importance. Their inclusion may not make the G-7 any more viable as anything more than a forum for discussion, but the bigger point is that like many institutions of its ilk, the G-7 is frozen in a time that no longer exists. During the Cold War, its members arguably did represent the bulk of the world’s industrial. But it remains a fundamentally Euro-American creation, consisting of Euro-American agendas that dominate the event out of the sheer number of leaders there.

That agenda, of course, is provincial. It fails to represent the complexities that a contemporary global power like the United States is concerned with. This year’s summit was a case in point. For the Europeans and Canada, this meeting was an end in itself, a forum to jointly voice their displeasure about tariffs. For Trump, it was merely a pit stop on the way to Singapore and the North Korea talks. That was probably also the case for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for whom North Korea is not as distant an affair as it is for the Europeans. They have opinions, but they have little skin in that game. Again: Had China and India been invited, North Korea may have been a more prominent item on the agenda.

As currently constituted, the G-7 is a splendid anachronism, a throw-back to a time when the center of the world was the Atlantic. Now that leading Western European powers are self-deconstructing in the name of multicultural diversity, they have merely become a cautionary tale about the perils of cultural decadence.

Merkel, May and Macron are having enough trouble governing their own countries. Merkel has destroyed her country with a flood of new migrants. May has made a mess of Brexit. Macron is the brightest of the bunch. We wish him the best in his struggle against French railroad labor unions. As for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Bieber... he is what the French call an amuse-bouche.


Deana said...

I do not remember another photograph of a US president that delighted me more than seeing Trump sitting down, arms crossed and defiantly looking at the feckless “leaders” of Europe. My word but that was delicious.

It is way past time for Europe to stand on its own two feet. We are done.

Sam L. said...

I believe the French are too kind to Justin "Bieber".

whitney said...

That was very interesting. I knew so little about the G7 that I couldn't even tell what I didn't know.

I also love that picture of trump sitting down with his arms crossed.