Remember the old World Fairs? Held in places like New York and Paris, they featured advancements and innovations made by inventors and companies that had improved lives. They were like local chamber of commerce trade shows, or state fairs, only bigger. G-20 summits have devolved into a version of the World Fairs, but now they celebrate big government solutions to our problems. Their attendees are a far cry from the spunky can do Americans in “Meet Me in Saint Louis.” Instead, first world guilt, victimhood, and environmental alarmism take center stage.
Ahead of the G-20 summit in Osaka, the official meeting website run by the Japanese government is showcasing the beautiful locales of several advance meetings that were held in nine Japanese cities. The website looks more like Expedia than some turgid public splash page. Tourism to Japan may spike a little bit as a result, but the real messaging from G-20 organizers is aimed at convincing taxpayers that these annual confabs, and the year long work by governments in between to prepare for the next one and then execute the policies from the last one, are worth the money.
President Trump can change this narrative. He will have an opportunity to extend globally his excellent efforts to shrink the size and power of the administrative state within the federal government. That is because the sorts of bureaucratic structures at the federal level, consisting of many inefficient and bloated agencies that often have overlapping functions, are mimicked by the international civil servants who work tirelessly to construct other similar taxpayer funded mechanisms such as the G-20.
Their goal is to pass under the noses of the heads of state in attendance a rather enormous and sometimes indecipherable meeting agenda and final statement, usually between the photo opportunities and swanky dinners, so that they can later claim a mandate from the top and assert their entitlement to a share of their government purses. But President Trump should not take that bait. Just as he has taken a meat axe to the federal bureaucracy, he can and should do the same at the global level.
G-20 proponents are always keen to latch on to the latest activist craze. This year, for example, in addition to the usual ponderous and virtue signaling sessions on climate change and the empowerment of women, a new item on the agenda is pollution from plastics. According to the World Economic Forum, 90 percent of the plastic that ends up in the ocean comes from just 10 world river systems, eight of which are in Asia. Wonder what China will say when that agenda item comes up?
Other G-20 subgroups on health, tourism, agriculture, energy transitions and sustainable growth, and labor and employment duplicate work on the same issues already underway by dozens of other international and regional multilateral entities. In some of these areas, governments should not be involved at all. The free market will solve many of those problems. President Trump can insist upon it. There is also still evidence of the same old cronyism and corporatism. There are sessions reserved for big business attendees, where wealthy corporations can and do lobby high level politicos for economic advantages, be they export subsidies or tax credits for new investments, in return for supporting the statist agenda.
The G-20 meeting process has evolved into just another World Fair venue for these corporatist transactions. Sending big business packing would be a great “constitutional populist” storyline. Meanwhile, areas where a G-20 summit can make a positive difference, such as by ensuring global coordination among financial markets, finding creative ways to cut taxes and public spending, or reducing barriers to trade, are either absent or otherwise submerged in the 2,000 words of the agenda summary.
President Trump, as the leader of the G-20 nations rated as free or mostly free under the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom, should urge more restricted G-20 nations to adopt government policies that will encourage greater economic freedom. He should encourage his fellow heads of state to mimic his successful tax cuts and regulatory reforms that have spurred economic growth in the United States.
World Fairs were never built on swamps. If they were, marsh lands were drained first. By exerting leadership to drain the G-20 swamp, President Trump can convince other free market countries to reverse stagnant and often eroding scores on economic freedom in too many of the nations of the world and open a new pathway toward greater global prosperity.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 6/27/19