G20 2010 postmortem .. instant second thoughts: on police overkill .. and Krugman’s deep discouragement

Jun 30th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
Toronto Police chief Bill Blair prepares for a press conference on G20 adventures at police headquarters, Tuesday, June 29, 2010. Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press.

Toronto Police chief Bill Blair prepares for a press conference on G20 adventures at police headquarters, Tuesday, June 29, 2010. Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press.

TORONTO. JUNE 30, 2010. 10:30 PM ET. Everything is clearer in retrospect. And only a few days after the latest G20 congregation has left this blandly civilized city with the secret heart of a loan shark, various fresh possibilities for judging the event a failure are blowing in the summer breeze.

Two possibilities deserve particular attention. The first is a swirling controversy over the role of the police (local, provincial, and even to some degree national, apparently) in dealing with protesters — legitimate and otherwise — and even mere bystanders.

A Toronto Star editorial yesterday summarized the essential case: “After watching the worst incidents of G20-related mayhem on television on the weekend, many Torontonians may well assume it is good news that the police arrested some 900 people. It’s not … Hundreds of those arrested and detained in a makeshift prison, some for more than 24 hours, were released without any charges whatsoever. Why? They had done nothing wrong in the first place. They were either peaceful protesters or just curious onlookers.”

Where all this will go, who knows? One place it should not go is the Ontario premier’s office. See, eg: “Secret G20 police powers under attack … Calls for an independent review of police action during the weekend’s G20 summit grew louder Wednesday as Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty came under attack for special powers he granted police … Provincial Conservatives accused the McGuinty government of failing to come clean about passing a law giving police the power to detain people in the summit security zone.” Just to start with, no “law” was “passed” by anyone here. A temporary regulation under an old law was proclaimed by the executive branch, at the request of the Toronto chief of police. It is no longer in force. And it does not appear to have had much at all to do with whatever may be worth worrying about.

On a still more serious front, there has been a sudden rush of second thoughts, in various quarters, about the part of the final G20 communique that boldly declares: “advanced economies have committed to fiscal plans that will at least halve deficits by 2013 and stabilize or reduce government debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016.”

One key galvanizing force here was a column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times this past Sunday, which fretted that: “We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression … And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world — most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.”

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman and his wife Robin, on vacation in France long ago, in the summer of 2003.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman and his wife Robin, on vacation in France long ago, in the summer of 2003.

Various recent statistics, in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, have lent some weight and heft to this kind of fear. See, eg: “Canada’s economic recovery stalls in April” ; “Canadians less confident in the economy: poll” ; “Could G20’s bitter medicine turn recession into a long-protracted depression?” ; “In Ireland, a Picture of the High Cost of Austerity.”

Only time can finally tell whether Krugman’s fears make sense, no doubt. But it seems fair enough to worry that the policy approaches politicians like Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty are attracted to in confronting the world’s current economic woes are driven more by raw ideology than any proven technical expertise in the mysteries of national and international economic management. As I alluded to in my last comments on this subject, the only saving grace in what the G20 set forth last weekend may prove to be that its “ dates for deficit reduction” are “not binding.”

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  1. My photos and video with commentary at the bottom
    http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-at-toronto-pictures.html

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