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Brave New Financial World

CAMBRIDGE – A huge struggle is brewing within the G-20 over the future of the global financial system. The outcome could impact the world – and not only the esoteric world of international finance – for decades to come.

Finance shapes power, ideas, and influence. Cynics may say that nothing will happen to the fundamentals of the global financial system, but they are wrong. In all likelihood, we will see huge changes in the next few years, quite possibly in the form of an international financial regulator or treaty. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to resolve the current mess without some kind of compass pointing to where the future system lies.

The United States and Britain naturally want a system conducive to extending their hegemony. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has recently advanced the broad outlines of a more conservative financial regulatory regime. Even critics of past US profligacy must admit that the Geithner proposal contains some good ideas.

Above all, regulators would force financiers to hold more cash on hand to cover their own bets, and not rely so much on taxpayers as a backstop. Geithner also aims to make financial deals simpler and easier to evaluate, so that boards, regulators, and investors can better assess the risks they face.