Uncle Ben from Spiderman made the most prophetic statement of the entire film series in his dying days (I almost cried, but don’t tell anybody): “With great power comes great responsibility.” Most of us understood what Uncle Ben was trying to say, and that includes Barack Obama.
Uncle Ben should have been the keynote speaker at the latest G-20 Summit, taking place this week in Pittsburgh, PA. The G-20 Summit is a gathering of the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the world’s 19 wealthiest countries, plus the European Union. These countries encompass 85 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, so they would probably meet Uncle Ben’s qualification for “great power,” at least when it comes to money.
The G-20 Summit’s primary objective is to achieve broad cooperation on the preservation of international financial stability. The motivations of the group, created in 1999, are seemingly noble and make perfect sense in light of the fact that the global economy has reached an unprecedented level of integration. If large nations do not work together, the world’s financial system will be subject to alarming amounts of volatility.
Not everyone can see the vision behind G-20 ambitions. Usually, the gatherings of the G-20 are as out of control as a frat party, as protesters have made a game out of disrupting the meetings as much as they possibly can. To prepare for this year’s economic fiesta, the city of Pittsburgh has brought in 4,000 police, 2,000 National Guard troops and 11 Coast Guard vessels.
Police, in an overwhelming show of force, declared Thursday’s march illegal almost as soon as it began, firing rubber bullets and canisters of pepper spray and smoke after small bands of anarchists responded to calls to disperse by rolling huge metal trash bins, throwing rocks and breaking windows. As of Friday morning, reports said nearly 70 people had been arrested and police were bracing for scattered protests around downtown.
President Obama, being the conflicted capitalist/black man/ex-community organizer that he is, made some telling comments about the demonstrators.
“I was always a big believer in – when I was doing organizing before I went to law school – that focusing on concrete, local, immediate issues that have an impact on people’s lives is what really makes a difference and that having protests about abstractions [such] as global capitalism or something, generally, is not really going to make much of a difference.”
Translation: No one is going to respond to protesters if they don’t know what in the heck these groups are protesting about. The president is right on the money with this one. Granted, any rational human being can smell something sinister about a pile of power brokers getting together in a room to discuss global economic hegemony in private. One can only conclude that the quest of the powerful is to either protect their power or to get more of it. But one must also ensure that protesters are not simply getting angry at people for being rich, powerful or (gasp) capitalist. You can’t just be anti-everything all the time: You have to be clear on the source of your frustration.
Capitalism is a powerful financial drug. Like a drug, when it is used responsibly, it can make the world a better place. But when it is abused, it can destroy the very system on which it stands. One can understand why G-20 nations are not the best candidates for using their capitalist power responsibly: our global economic system has been recklessly undermined, leading to dire poverty and loss of life around the world. The only ones who appear to have been protected from the devastation are the very bankers who actually caused it. This is wrong.
Beyond maintaining financial stability, G-20 power should come with a greater obligation to confront important global issues, such as starvation and HIV/AIDS. Why not attack the global hunger crisis as diligently as we are attacking the global economic crisis? Protecting a wealthy nation’s GDP growth can’t possibly be as important as preserving the lives of millions of dying children.
While G-20 nations control 85 percent of the world’s GDP, they only represent 2/3rds of the world’s population. It is essential that there be a voice to represent the 2 billion people who’ve been left out of the room. But in order for these voices to be heard, the voices of the protesters must be both audible and unified. Yelling, burning and rioting can only be progressive if you are keeping your objective in mind.