• German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and South Korean President Moon Jae In review an honor guard prior to their G20 talks. (AAP)
The 2017 G20 Summit, of which Australia is a part, is currently upon us. But what do politicians actually do at these World Meetings of Economic Powers (apart from congratulating themselves on recent wins and taking swipes at frenemy countries to make their own nations look good)? Helen Razer explains all.
By
Helen Razer

6 Jul 2017 - 12:30 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2017 - 12:30 PM

It’s that thrilling time when the planet’s most influential leaders meet at the G20 summit to ensure that…zzzz, we citizens, whose future they pretend to discuss, all fall into a coma of deep unconcern. My goodness. If we do not count slow Wi-Fi, pictures of royal babies or CC: All emails about the proper use of the office microwave, there can be few things more apparently boring than politicians at a boring global meeting.

Between you, me and even the terrible person who nukes their puttanesca without the lid on, I think these world leaders actively seek to seem boring. Of course, anti-globalisation protestors do their bit to make the thing appear, as it is, a fascinating clubhouse of evil. And news outlets make something of an effort to let us know that it’s happening. The press secretaries of leaders add a little pizazz, claiming that there are threats to our very Western existence, often from the Middle East.

The obvious spin for this summit, first held after the Global Financial Crisis—if you ever forget when that was, a good way to remember is by that year you stopped getting pay rises—focuses on fear of North Korea.

But, chiefly, it’s all a careful carnival of boredom to make us believe that these important men, and small numbers of important women, are doing something, which is far too complex/boring for us to understand.

The obvious spin for this summit, first held after the Global Financial Crisis—if you ever forget when that was, a good way to remember is by that year you stopped getting pay rises—focuses on fear of North Korea. And, heck, I’m not saying that North Korea’s various detonations are something with which we should be comfy. Any new nuclear device on the planet, even a dodgy one, brings with it potential for new horror. But, as a child of the Cold War, I long ago made peace with the lack of hope for peace. Israel, Russia, France, Pakistan, China, India, the UK and the USA are all nuclear-armed states, and, not to be picky, but it is only that last nation that was ever insane enough to actually deploy such a bomb on people. The only guaranteed way to outrun the rational fear of nuclear attack is to decommission every nuclear device on the planet. But, hey. That’s not gonna be a plan made at the summit.

If you’re still awake, you might ask: what plans do these leaders make?

Well, we can’t really be sure. What they reveal in public statements is bound to be a lot less interesting than what they say in private. In public, leaders of the world’s richest 19 nations, and one poor old damaged EU, say a bit of tough stuff—like North Korea is the greatest threat to civilisation since the first season of Two and a Half Men—and a bunch of really nice sounding stuff, like how they’re going to save all the destitute nations of the world and give them water and education and all the things they cannot manage to give themselves. These leaders are saviours!

This stuff is boring. We’ve all grown up hearing leaders in economically powerful nations make like Twiggy Forrest and say they are going to help Those Less Fortunate. Then, when they continue to not help Those Less Fortunate, we stop paying attention. Like the anonymous person who keeps exploding their pasta sauce in the office microwave, these leaders will never stop making a mess.

So, I think this is why we, very reasonably, find such meetings boring. We know that they’re just for show. You get a Julia Gillard saying that she wants the help of the G20 to bring education to the world, but you’re pretty sure that this is not going to happen. Because despite the claims of some that the world economy, entirely controlled by the G20 members, has “lifted people out of poverty”, you have the suspicion that this is just not true.

I suggest that there is a new way to listen to the careerist politicians tell their half-truths about Helping the Poor and Helping the Planet without falling asleep. If we hear these things as code for their power and not just as empty promises, we might awaken.

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The G20, essentially an economic organisation, strives to run the world very much like a public corporation.  He or she who owns the most shares in a company has the most power to vote on company decisions. This, as you know, is not democracy, but a way to ensure those who have the greatest power keep it. Julia Gillard, for example, keeps her small amount of power as a minor star in a Western pro-education industry that wants to teach kids in impoverished nations how to be better workers—despite the fact that there will be no work in these nations unless the G20 truly decides to do something about poverty. Which, being an elite shareholder organisation, it won’t. The USA? Well, it gets to stay the USA, the world’s most powerful state.

When we hear these leaders speak in public about their hopes and dreams and, essentially, their cosmetic promises to change a world sinking into the ugliness of poverty, we must look for the truth it represents. 

So, we must listen anew, and stay awake. When we hear these leaders speak in public about their hopes and dreams and, essentially, their cosmetic promises to change a world sinking into the ugliness of poverty, we must look for the truth it represents. And, importantly, when we hear leaders, predominantly white leaders and exclusively leaders of wealthy nations, say that they want to “save” others, we must remember that those others are usually pretty good at saving themselves, given half a chance.

I happened upon some words from Malala Yousafzai the other day which she offered to her nation of Pakistan—not a G20 member state. These, I think, can help us listen through to the true meaning of the shareholder saviours currently meeting in Hamburg. “We cannot wait around for anyone else to come and do it. Why are we waiting for someone else to come and fix things? Why aren’t we doing it ourselves?”

Let’s ask questions of the kind words that will be spoken at G20 this week. Why aren’t the nations not in attendance permitted by your organisation to fix things themselves?

Hope I made the whole thing a lot less boring.

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