Pittsburgh G-20 meeting is about action, not symbolism

The most memorable images generated by any assemblage of world leaders gathered to discuss economic issues are the street scenes outside the meeting.

Protesters march, often in creative costumes. Their signs tell the world to just say “no” to capitalism, greed and globalization.

It will be the same next month when the leaders of Group of 20 nations put Pittsburgh on the world stage. Organizers of the event would like the location to stand as a symbol of the rise, fall and rise of capitalism in Western Pennsylvania.

But this will be no sight-seeing trip. The 10-year-old G-20 was born out of financial crises in the late 1990s. As the current financial mess spread worldwide last fall, the first meeting of the leaders of the G-20 nations took place in Washington Nov. 15.

Up till then, the annual G-20 summits were all financial, economic wonkiness organized and attended by the finance ministers and central bankers of 19 nations and the European Union. Nothing like a global recession to get their bosses’ attention, right?

And those leaders wanted action, not more studies. So at the close of the Washington meeting, the leaders of the G-20 (who are called the L-20) issued an action plan with 44 things that need to change to make sure a global crisis does not happen again.

Those include increasing the financial resources of the International Monetary Fund and enhancing accounting standards for the “valuation of complex, illiquid products.”

If you read the action list, you’ll realize why the protesters of globalization have a more memorable message. The L-20’s issues are about as exciting as a sewage treatment authority agenda.

Still, these 20 “systemically significant” nations account for two-thirds of the world’s population, and that’s why protesters bother. It’s the one place where the old guard economies of Europe and the United States deal as equals with the rapidly rising BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations.

That’s why thousands of protesters converged on London for the second L-20 summit in April. And they’re getting ready for Round Three in Pittsburgh. We already know the street theater will make better YouTube video. More important will be what actions, if any, the L-20 agree to pursue this time.