Class power, neoliberalism, and the G20 Summits
Introduction A product of the West, the 2008 credit crisis eroded an unprecedented amount of wealth, albeit unevenly, across the globe, driving more than 50 million people – particularly women and children – into extreme poverty in the developing world (IMF 2009a). Almost one year after the crisis, however, the communiqué of the Pittsburgh Summit of the Group of Twenty (G20)1 announced, in a smug and self-congratulatory tone, that the world was “in the midst of a critical transition from crisis to recovery” largely because of the Herculean efforts of the G20 in ensuring the re-creation of the same conditions that brought about the crisis in the first place, for instance, free mobility for financial capital and the dominance of market rule (Harvey 2007). In the words of the G20, successful recovery demanded that the world work “to repair our financial systems and to maintain the global flow of capital” (G20 Pittsburgh Summit 2009, my emphasis). What “recovery” has banked on, however, are debt socialization schemes such as the $850 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the United States, coupled with the neoliberal commitment of states “to stay out of the markets” in order to facilitate the natural healing process that ostensibly ensues from the self-equilibration of the forces of supply and demand. Until now, there has been very little critical examination of the content and form of the G20 Summits of 2009, especially with regard to questions of neoliberalism and the uneven nature of capitalist development, including the paradoxes and class power therein (Cammack 2009; cf. Beeson and Bell 2009). The aim of this chapter is to address this void in the scholarship by examining and arguing, at the general level, that the G20 Summits represent an articulation of class, and, its close relation, geopolitical power (Harvey 1999, 2007). More specifically, this argument has two overlapping sides. On the one hand, I posit that the main policy content formulated at the G20 Summits immediately following the crisis reflects the class interests of those individuals who have benefitted the most from neoliberalism: financial and non-financial corporations and the United States. On the other hand, I suggest that a necessary condition for the social reproduction of this power is based not only on the ability to re-legitimate the importance of neoliberalism for all (e.g., market and individual freedoms),
but also, and relatedly, to depoliticize its class nature by resorting to what I refer to as financial fetishism. I discuss this term more fully below (Section three). Suffice it to say here that financial fetishism refers to a two-step process whereby dominant class interests as well as political elite, first, abstract and relegate finance to the economic sphere, and, second, ensure that the economic sphere remains emptied of political, historical, and cultural relations of class power (Rankin 2002). Through an analysis of the official discourse of the G20 Summits, I seek to reveal how and why these class-based processes of financial fetishism were involved in depoliticizing and neutralizing the causes and effects of the crisis and thereby legitimating a narrow and very particular policy response, namely the reproduction of free (unregulated) financial flows of capital. I develop this chapter by moving from a concrete historical analysis to the abstract level. Section one explores the continuities between the G20 and its predecessor, the New International Financial Architecture (NIFA). Section two examines the state of global capitalism over the past decade in order to reveal paradoxes, inequalities, and struggles underpinning the two global initiatives. Section three moves to a more abstract and theoretical consideration of the representation of the G20 Summits through the lens of my concept “financial fetishism” in order to understand more deeply the class nature of this initiative. Section four concludes by discussing some implications of my argument for future research.