Well, it's that time again. This weekend the Group of Seven major industrial democracies, and Russia, gather in Britain for their annual gabfest about the world economy. And once again I offer my annual alternative G-7 _ the ones you would really invite if you were organizing a summit meeting of the world's seven most important economic actors today and you weren't stuck with Canada, France, Italy, Britain, Japan, Germany and the United States.
Chair No. 1 this year would go to the world's leading expert for fixing the millennium computer bug _ whoever he or she is. After all, the G-7 was founded in 1975 to deal with the oil shock, and there is a high probability that the millennium bug _ a programming failure built into older microchips that renders them unable to recognize dates after Dec. 31, 1999, and therefore susceptible to shutdown after that day _ will administer a similar economic shock.
"With the millennium bug, you may get your own computers adjusted in time, but what about the person or the company or the country your computers are connected with?" asked Robert Hormats of Goldman Sachs. "The 1973 oil shock was produced by just a 5 percent cut in Arab oil output. If just 5 percent of the computers operating Russian nuclear plants or central banks in Latin America or airlines in Asia were to shut down, it could jolt the world economy just like the 1973 oil shock."
Chair No. 2 would be fought over by the billionaire oligarchs who dominate Russia's economy today, because they represent not only enormous wealth and power but the real alternative to democratic globalization. That is, the world is slowly dividing between free-market democracies and free-market kleptocracies (robber-baron states). Russia's robber barons have ripped off many of Russia's assets and could take over the state.
Chair No. 3 would be shared by China's prime minister, Zhu Rongji; Iran's president, Mohammed Khatami; and Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni. All three are potential Mikhail Gorbachevs. If they succeed in taking their respective economic liberalizations and turning them into political liberalizations _ moving their nations from rogues to rule-abiders _ it will have a huge impact on stability in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and East Africa.
Chair No. 4 would be occupied by a television set with a black box on the top. It's Web TV, recently bought by Microsoft, which, once it gets running, will popularize the Internet as never before. For the first time anyone with just a TV and a telephone line will be able to buy that black box for $99 and connect to the World Wide Web _ without needing a personal computer or learning Windows.
In Chair No. 5 the Japanese government would be officially disinvited and replaced by the "Keizai Doyukai," Japan's Association of Corporate Executives, which represents the younger, more outspoken, more entrepreneurial business types. To the extent that there is a corporate lobby in Japan for cleaning up its banks and really deregulating the economy to lift it from its malaise, it's the Keizai Doyukai, so let's give it a boost.
Chair No. 6 will feature an arm-wrestling match between the governors of the German and French central banks. The winner gets to explain to the G-7 how the euro is going to work and whether Europe will be run on the tight-fisted model of the German central bank, which means bankers will rule Europe, or the more socially sensitive French model, which means politicians will rule.
Chair No. 7 will be shared by Special Prosecutor Ken Starr, who is considering busting President Clinton, and Justice's antitrust chief, Joel Klein, who is considering busting up Microsoft. Few things could have more impact on global economics in 1998 than if Starr were to bring down Bill Clinton and Klein brought down Bill Gates.
New York Times News Service