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G-8, G-20 are just costly extravaganzas

Commentator David Frum.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: It's economic alpha-numeric soup up in Canada this week. The G-8 meets tomorrow and Friday in Toronto. They'll be joined by 12 of their closest friends over the weekend for the G-20. Global economic recovery, Europe's financial crisis, yada, yada -- you can guess what they'll be talking about.

Conservative commentator David Frum is less interested in what's on the agenda than the fact that there is an agenda.


David Frum: I am speaking to you from a city under siege. No, not Kandahar. Toronto.

This Canadian city's famously livable downtown is barricaded. Police patrol the streets. The train station and other public buildings are closed. All to provide security to the heads of government and finance ministers gathered here for the meetings of the G-8 and G-20.

Sadly -- or hilariously, depending on your point of view -- this costly extravaganza originated as an attempt to break free from over-elaborate meetings. Thirty-five years ago, then-French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing proposed a face-to-face get-together for the leaders of the world's big free market economies. No agenda, no resolutions -- just a rare chance for human relationship building and candid off-the-record conversation among the leaders of the world's biggest capitalist democracies.

It was a good idea then; it would be a good idea now. But over the years, the meeting has grown and grown and grown. Canada and Italy joined. Seats were set for the EU and Russia. Now the G-8 is merging into the G-20, including India, Brazil and China. The more the merrier.

But with so many leaders taking part, an agenda becomes indispensable. If there is an agenda, there must be staffing. If there is staffing, staffers must attend. With so many attendees, the meeting would look like a failure unless it produced some kind of communique, resolution or action plan. And with everybody expecting a communique, resolution or action plan, the off-the-record meeting now attracts hundreds and thousands of reporters, bloggers and assorted other media types.

It is like some hideous parable of modern government. The reasonable modest initial idea -- mission escalation, cost inflation and the final result, a gargantuan bloat that serves only its own purposes.

Ryssdal: David Frum is the founder of FrumForum. Next week, in his regular spot, liberal commentator Robert Reich.

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