Failed 1933 London conference a warning for G20





On June 12, 1933, more than a thousand of the world's top finance and government officials squeezed into London's stuffy Geological Museum to hear a speech from Britain's King George V - broadcast live by radio to underscore the gravity of the meeting - and set about trying to save the world from the Great Depression.

Six weeks later, the World Economic Conference gave up. Without any major agreements, it adjourned amid squabbling and finger-pointing between the world's democracies.

It's a sobering example ahead of the Group of 20 summit, which gathers Thursday at London's ExCel conference center a few miles (kilometers) from the Geological Museum, now part of the Natural History Museum.

To be sure, differences are many between then and now. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany will have no representatives at the ExCel center. Issues that had people at each others' throats then - such as debts from World War I - have been long consigned to history books.

Economists, after decades of studying the Great Depression, have a better understanding of why it happened and how the standard economic thinking of the 1930s - balance budgets and raise import tariffs - made things worse.

Despite the differences, the 1933 conference serves as an example of how badly things can go wrong when diplomacy takes place on a public stage, says historian Patricia Clavin of Jesus College at Oxford University.

As a result of its failure, the U.S., Britain and France went their separate ways on economic policy and traded public recriminations for years about who spoiled the conference and about its now-forgotten financial issues - as the economy kept on sinking and as aggressor nations such as Japan and Nazi Germany armed for war against them.



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