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Group of Wealthy and Emerging Nations Aim to Fix World Economy


Leaders of the G20, a group that includes the world's largest economies and influential developing nations, are heading for Pittsburgh for an international economic summit. The G20 leaders have had some success in easing the worst global recession in decades. Now they are facing new challenges, such as devising more effective regulations for international finance and deciding how and when governments should rein in their stimulus programs.

Finance ministers and other officials have been setting the stage for talks among G20 heads of state by assessing progress toward global economic recovery and haggling over new rules intended to improve market oversight, reduce risk and prevent future collapses.

For example, there is already the outline of an agreement requiring banks to keep more money in reserve, in case loans and investments go bad.

Higher capital requirements mean financial firms face less risk in a downturn, because they can lend less money. But they will be less profitable in good times.

However, G20 nations could not agree on new rules to limit the huge bonuses financial firms pay to their executives. Some experts say the bonuses made the economic collapse worse. European finance ministers, including France's Christine Lagarde, want strict limits on such payments.

"We are determined to follow the action very carefully, because we are not going to drop that ball. Financial regulation is far too important, bonuses are quite outrageous and we cannot let things continue as it is at the moment," she said.

Some bankers got major rewards for taking huge risks that returned short-term profits. In some cases, those investments turned sour, resulting in losses so large that governments rescued some banks on the brink of failure.

France and Germany want caps on bonus payments, while the United States had reservations about the idea. A group of experts will present recommendations to the G20 leaders in Pittsburgh.

Meantime, economic experts including China's Finance Minister Xie Xuren say the global economy is recovering from the crisis that began about a year ago. But Mr. Xie says it is still too early to cut back efforts to bolster the economy, including massive spending on public-works projects to increase demand for materials and workers, and drastic interest-rate cuts.

A key question the G20 must decide is which stimulus efforts to rein in, and when and how to do that.

If stimulus efforts end too soon, economists say the world could slip back into recession. If stimulus spending goes on too long, it runs up national debts and heightens the risk of inflation.

Peterson Institute Scholar Ted Truman says coordination between nations is crucial.

"If something goes bad in one of those countries, if there is a crisis in Korea, it affects the world. If there is a crisis in Brazil, it affects the word. A crisis in the United States, we've just seen ... affects the world," he said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says that is why G20 nations should no longer act alone.

"What all countries have learned in the past year, it's more important than ever that we work together, cooperate together and act together," Brown said.

Brookings Institution scholar Domenico Lombardi says G20 nations agree on the causes of the crisis.

"I think the next challenge to the G20 summit would be to try to develop an understanding about how to move towards a more long-term sustainable view of the growth of the global economy," he said.

Claude Barfield of the American Enterprise Institute says this meeting is not likely to produce major signed agreements.

"I think it does have a positive effect, a psychological effect. But as we have learned in the past couple of years, psychology means a lot in markets," he said.

Markets also respect wealth, and the G20 nations together account for 80 percent of the entire world's economic production and two-thirds of its people.

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