G20 is meeting this week. Why isn’t it the G200?

G20 countries in purple, EU members in light blue

G20 countries in purple, EU members in light blue

President Barack Obama is in Seoul, Korea, for a meeting of the “Group of 20” nations, otherwise known as the G20 — and not to be confused with the G8 or that fleeting gathering in 1999 known as the G33.

Yes, but we are confused. What the heck is it these pomp-and-circumstance meetings are supposed to do, really, other than provide governments with promises to break later?

And why do we still have a G8 and also a G20? (We also have a G7, but that’s another story).

The “Group of Eight” nations was created in 1975 as a confab for the governments of the wealthier nations of U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and Russia to talk international economics. Actually, it’s better to say these eight nations appointed themselves the Group of Eight. It’s not like their buddies, all the other nations around the world, voted for this rich nations club.

Then in 2008, when the global economy was going down the toilet, the powers-that-be agreed to expand the club and create the G20 to figure out what to do about the mess created by the international financial system. Membership was expanded to include “emerging economies” like Indonesia and Argentina. Maybe it just helped to spread the responsibility for the global economy to others.

So now we have both a G8 and a G20.

Oh, and we had a G22 for a while and then, in 1999, a G33 but neither of those lasted.

So why G20? I don’t know why 20 is today the magic number, but I suspect there’s really not a good answer anyway. A better question is why don’t we have a G200 (give or take five or ten)?

Consider: There’s something like 195 nations in the world. Oddly enough, it’s hard to say precisely … because of arguments over definitions of nationality, because China doesn’t want Taiwan recognized and Israel doesn’t want Palestine recognized and stuff like that. The United Nations has 192 members.

But just to make sure everyone’s covered, let’s call the entire planet the G200 — Group of 200.

Given that we live in a global economy, it seems only fair that everyone should get to go to the meeting where the rich countries talk about how not to muck it up again.

So, we’ll see what comes out of this meeting. But to gain a little perspective on how many of those outside this club see it, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre recently characterized the G20 as one of the greatest setbacks in international development since World War II.

The G-20 is a self-appointed group. Its composition is determined by the major countries and powers. It may be more representative than the G-7 or the G-8, in which only the richest countries are represented, but it is still arbitrary. We no longer live in the 19th century, a time when the major powers met and redrew the map of the world. No one needs a new Congress of Vienna.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.