Why in the World is the G20 Meeting in Pittsburgh?


The G20 apparently has a sense of humor, or irony at least. The leaders of the world's most important economies will be meeting this fall in Pittsburgh. Uh huh, Pittsburgh. A lot of people are asking something along the lines of "What, was downtown Baltimore booked?" But I'm wondering: Why is an organization dedicated to international development meeting in America's national mascot for steel subsidies? Isn't that a bit like a group of Mormon organizations gathering in Las Vegas?


Real Time Economics says the US chose Pittsburgh (unemployment rate 7.6) to bring some much needed business to a suffering city. But isn't 7.6% below the national average? You want to bring much-needed business to a suffering city near New York, try Philadelphia (employment: 9.7%).

Instead, the G20 is treated to an excellent hotel window view of a city that once benefited from the United States' steel subsidy.* Now look, maybe Obama's just playing a sly game. Just two days ago, China was freshly accused of dumping steel dumping, seeing as its crazy high subsidies are allowing the country to ramp up steel production as global demand slows. In that case, maybe Pittsburgh would be an appropriate place to have an honest discussion about the impact of steel subsidies on developing and emerging markets. Or perhaps we're just bringing the Chinese Minister to Three Rivers so Steelers' safety Troy Polamalu can get him in a headlock until China makes concessions on protectionism.

*Update: Given the comment reaction below, I thought it essential to clarify and correct some points made in this post. For the most part, it was, stated simply, a shallow observation that Pittsburgh was, for many years, a poster child of the steel subsidies that would seem to cast shadows on the stated mission of the G20 to promote international development -- something that tariffs and subsidies would both impede.

But as my correct commenters pointed out, this observation is misleading in two ways: not only has the city manifestly emerged from its rusty reputation as a tech leader, but also that very reemergence would seem to make Pittsburgh not an ironic choice for a G20 meeting, but an appropriate one, given the international debate about how subsidy-reliant cities and regions can transform themselves to compete in a 21st century environment. Their points are all well taken.

Photo of Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu from Wikipedia.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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