My city feels like a crime scene, and the criminals are all
melting into the night, fleeing the scene. No, I'm not talking about the kids in black who smashed windows and burned cop
cars on Saturday. I'm talking about the heads of state who, on Sunday night,
smashed social safety nets and burned good jobs in the middle of a recession. Faced with the effects of a crisis created by
the world's wealthiest and most privileged strata, they decided to stick the poorest and most vulnerable people in their countries
with the bill. How else can we interpret the G20's final communique, which includes not even a measly tax on banks or financial transactions, yet
instructs governments to slash their deficits in half by 2013. This is a huge and shocking
cut, and we should be very clear who will pay the price: students who will see their public educations further deteriorate
as their fees go up; pensioners who will lose hard earned benefits; public sector workers whose jobs will be eliminated. And
the list goes on. These types of cuts have already begun in many G20 countries including Canada, and they are about to get
a lot worse. For instance, reducing the projected 2010 deficit in the U.S. by half, in the absence of a sizeable tax increase,
would mean a whopping $780-billion cut.
They are happening for a simple reason. When the G20 met in London in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, the leaders failed
to band together to regulate the financial sector so that this type of crisis would never happen again.
All we got was empty rhetoric, and an agreement to put trillions of dollars in public monies on the table to shore up the
banks around the world. Meanwhile, the U.S. government did little to keep people in their homes and jobs, so in addition to
hemorrhaging public money to save the banks, the tax base collapsed, creating an entirely predictable debt and deficit crisis.
At this weekend's summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper convinced his
fellow leaders that it simply wouldn't be fair to punish those banks that behaved well and did not create the crisis (despite
the fact that Canada's highly protected banks are consistently profitable and could easily absorb a tax). Yet, somehow, these
leaders had no such concerns about fairness when they decided to punish blameless individuals for a crisis created by derivative
traders and absentee regulators.
Last week, the Globe and Mail ran a fascinating article about the origins of the G20. It turns out the entire concept was conceived in a meeting back in 1999
between then Finance Minister Paul Martin and his U.S. counterpart Lawrence Summers (itself interesting since Summers was,
at that time playing a central role in creating the conditions for this financial crisis, allowing a wave of bank consolidation
and refusing to regulate derivatives).
The two men wanted to expand the G7, but only to countries they considered
strategic and safe. They needed to make a list but apparently they didn't have paper handy. So, according to reporters John
Ibbitson and Tara Perkins, "the two men grabbed a brown manila envelope, put it on the table between them, and began sketching
the framework of a new world order." Thus was born the G20.
The story is a good reminder that history is shaped by human decisions,
not natural laws. Summers and Martin changed the world with the decisions they scrawled on the back on that envelope. But
there is nothing to say that citizens of G20 countries need to take orders from this handpicked club. Already, workers, pensioners
and students have taken to the streets against austerity measures in Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Greece, often marching
under the slogan "We won't pay for your crisis." And they have plenty of suggestions for how to raise revenues to meet their
respective budget shortfalls. Many are calling for a financial transaction tax that would slow down hot money and raise new
money for social programs and climate change. Others are calling for steep taxes on polluters that would underwrite the cost
of dealing with the effects of climate change and moving away from fossil fuels. And ending losing wars is always a good cost
The G20 is an ad-hoc institution with none of the legitimacy of the United
Nations. Since it just tried to stick us with a huge bill for a crisis most of us had no hand in creating, I say we take a
cue from Martin and Summers. Flip it over, and write on the back of the envelope: Return to sender.
is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the New York Times and international bestseller,
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Published worldwide in September 2007, The Shock Doctrine
is being translated in over 25 languages. The six minute companion film, created by Alfonso Cuaron, director of Children
of Men, was an Official Selection of the 2007 Venice Biennale and Toronto International Film Festivals and was a viral
phenomenon, downloaded over a million times.
Her first book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies was
also an international bestseller, translated into over 28 languages with more than a million copies in print. A collection
of her work, Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate was published in 2002.
Klein writes a regular column for The Nation and The Guardian that is syndicated internationally by The
New York Times Syndicate. In 2004, her reporting from Iraq for Harper’s Magazine won the James Aronson Award
for Social Justice Journalism. Also in 2004, she co-produced The Take with director Avi Lewis, a feature documentary
about Argentina’s occupied factories. The film was an Official Selection of the Venice Biennale and won the Best Documentary
Jury Prize at the American Film Institute’s Film Festival in Los Angeles.
She is a former Miliband Fellow at
the London School of Economics and holds an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of King’s College, Nova