Finance

HAMISH MCRAE: Economic power has shifted away from the West and will shift further in the years ahead

The protests at the G20 meeting in Hamburg remind the rest of us that there is a fragility to the world economy if a successful, prosperous and decent nation such as Germany can harbour such dissent.

But it is worth setting out, on the other side of the scale, the achievement of the G20 and its value to global society.

For a start, it gets the leaders of 80 per cent of the world economy together under one roof.

Until it was started in 1999, the main economic leadership group was the G7. That led to the justified criticism that the rich nations ran the show and that the emerging world was under-represented.

Police use pepper spray to remove a protester from the roof of an armoured car during g20 protests in Hamburg, Germany

Now, not only are the emerging countries much more important in economic terms, they are fully included in the governance of the world economy.

The BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India, China – are there, but so too are countries such as Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria and Turkey, that are all important in different ways.

The emerging world is growing at roughly double the rate of the developed world, so its role will increase in the years ahead.

The second thing to note is that, under the governance of the G20, the size of the world economy has roughly doubled, while third, its leadership is becoming more evenly shared.

There has been a wall of condemnation about US policy, particularly over the environment and trade, since Donald Trump became president. Whether you think that is fair or not, it has at least nudged China towards more of an active diplomatic role.

Both China and Russia are aggressive in protecting their national interests, and the EU has deep protectionist instincts – as we are seeing now in its approach to Brexit.

But in practice the G20 countries are managing to patch up a reasonably free-trading system, and if the impetus to do so is no longer so dependent on the US then that must be a strength rather than a weakness.

None of this will impress the protesters. It is more fun to burn cars and smash shop windows. But all young Westerners should reflect on the fact that economic power has shifted away from the West and will shift further in the years ahead.

Tackling the cyber yobs

One of the specific areas where G20 co-operation must improve is fighting cyber-crime. In the past few days we have had attacks on a number of multinationals, including Reckitt Benckiser, makers of Nurofen and Durex, and Mondelez, owner of Cadbury.

It seems that the companies have, at best, lost sales, and, at worst, have had their security compromised and will takes weeks to recover fully.

It is an odd sort of crime, because the advantage is hard to see. When the infamous American felon Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied: ‘That’s where the money is.’ But these attackers don’t seem to want money. They just want to muck things up.

They seem to be operating from Ukraine, but it isn’t clear whether there is a state role somewhere here. We do know two things.

One is that this is an international problem and it requires global support at a governmental level to tackle it. It is powerfully in the self-interest of the G20 nations to do so.

The other is that this has not received nearly enough attention at board level, perhaps because the boards of public companies are composed of people of a certain age who don’t understand the gravity of what is happening. The attacks of the past week should change that.

Had a great fall. . .

You have heard about the Goldilocks economy, one that is growing at just the right rate – not too fast and not too slow.

That, supposedly, is where the world is at the moment.

Now Bank of America, bless them, have thrown into the pot a new character from our childhood tales, Humpty Dumpty. They think both shares and bonds are in for a big fall in in the autumn.

Before you get too alarmed, remember that in January last year the Royal Bank of Scotland warned that there would be a ‘cataclysmic year’ for shares and that investors should sell everything.

It turned out to be a duff year for RBS shares, but the market as a whole soared. But if the Humpty Dumpty scenario proves right, at least you have now read about it here.

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