NEW YORK – We live in a world where, in theory, global economic and political governance is in the hands of the G-20. In practice, however, there is no global leadership and severe disarray and disagreement among G-20 members about monetary and fiscal policy, exchange rates and global imbalances, climate change, trade, financial stability, the international monetary system, and energy, food and global security. Indeed, the major powers now see these issues as zero-sum games rather than positive-sum games. So ours is, in essence, a G-Zero world.
In the nineteenth century, the stable hegemon was the United Kingdom, with the British Empire imposing the global public goods of free trade, free capital mobility, the gold standard, and the British pound as the major global reserve currency. In the twentieth century, the United States took over that role, imposing its Pax Americana to provide security to most of Western Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. The US also dominated the Bretton Woods institutions – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and, later, the World Trade Organization – to determine the global trade and financial rules, with the dollar as the main reserve currency.