Rana Foroohar writes that the G8, although a relic of a time past and in need of renovation, is still a worthwhile institution.
The G8 has only just begun to meet in the Italian mountain town of L'Aquila, but already it seems destined to fail. After all, how can you tackle the financial crisis, world poverty, and climate change when China, which is central to all those problems, isn't even there (President Hu Jintao had to high-tail it back home to deal with increasingly bloody ethnic clashes in the country's remote Xinjiang province). Then there's the fact that the pope has chosen the moment to attack global capitalism. Oh, and the event's host, Silvio Berlusconi, has his mind on other things-namely that he might get thrown out of office at any moment, following a cash-for-sex scandal.
All this highlights the usual question that precedes such meetings-why should we care? For some time now, the very existence of a G8 has been in question, with lots of folks arguing that a group of leaders largely plucked from declining, indebted Western countries can't provide a representative view on the world's problems. That's why the G20 was invented, of course. Back in April, there were high hopes that this bigger, broader powwow, which included many of the world's biggest emerging nations (China, India, Brazil, South Africa), would figure out a way to pull us out of the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. It turned out to be more or less a photo op. The look on the faces of these world leaders says it all: thank God we made it through this thing without a complete blowup!
Certainly, the notion of a more inclusive G20 is better than the past solution, which involved the G7 inviting the leaders of the BRICs-Brzil, Russia, India, and China-over "for tea," as the Brazilian finance minister so famously summarized it. How's that for patronizing? Yet there's really no reason to think that 20 guys stuck in a room for a couple of days can accomplish more than eight could. For starters, they've got a lot less in common. The Americans and the Europeans don't agree on how to restructure the global financial system, but at least they're all worried about China's export subsidies. Brazil and other commodity-rich emerging powers want to jump-start global trade negotiations, but the U.S. is wary. Political agendas of West and East, North and South, diverge. And so on. It's hard to think of an issue on which a big group could ever reach consensus.