Thursday, November 13, 2008

...and this is my other brother Darryl

. Thursday, November 13, 2008

The international community urgently needs an international institution to coordinate the naming of international bodies. The task is urgent because effective international cooperation depends in part upon the names we give to international bodies. Governments have proven that they are unable to efficiently name these bodies on their own.

The G20 Summit, scheduled for Washington, DC this weekend, illustrates the nature of the problem. Which G20 is summitting? The G20 that coordinates positions of developing country agriculture exporters and acts as a negotiating block in the WTO? Nope, not that one. The summitting G20 is the one that "promotes open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability." Left to themselves, therefore, governments have assigned the same name to two international bodies with different memberships and completely different purposes.

A name's purpose is to differentiate. This is why the old (Bob) Newhart Show always got laughs from the line, "Hi, I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl. It's also why we laugh upon learning that George Foreman has named all five of his sons George.

Our laughter arises from the recognition that the failure to pick names that differentiate creates confusion. Consider the confusion associated with calling a G20 Summit. Which governments should attend? Do Brazil and China--members of both--send their trade or finance ministers? What agenda items should these officials prepare to discuss? Where should they go? The potential for wasteful travel (and unecessary greenhouse gas emissions) and confused and unproductive meetings is apparent. This is inefficient--very high transactions costs. This is no way to run the world.

A new international organization could eliminate such confusion (reduce transactions costs) by ensuring that each international body has a unique name. In addition, this new IO might encourage greater creativity in names. International civil servants could create alternatives to the popular "G-followed by a number" (G4; G5, G7 G8; G20, G20, G77, etc) or equally popular "Roman-numbers-appended-to-existing-names" (e.g., Bretton Woods II). If the civil servants lacked the requisite creativity, they could just keep a ledger to ensure that in a world of infinite "G-followed by a number" possibilities, each group is assigned a unique "G-followed by a number" name.

The need for this initiative grows more pressing each year as governments expand the range of issues subject to international cooperation. Without action, current confusion will grow exponentially. Eventually, government officials will routinely show up at the wrong place prepared to discuss the wrong issues. We must act now.

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...and this is my other brother Darryl
 
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