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G20 as world's top economic body? Doubts abound.

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Indeed, at a Thursday press briefing, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he doubted any state would give up its sovereignty for a consensus. But he added, “I think it’s important that we get people to agree all of us are performing together.”

It's good for nations to talk, says Mr. Spatt. But “usually when one says an institution is really important, the institution has demonstrated importance,” he says, inferring that's not yet the case for the G20.

With President Obama and the first lady now in Pittsburgh, attention shifts from New York and the United Nations to the work of the Group of 20. The G20 finance ministers first met in 1999 and try to get together annually. They will gather again in November. The member nations account for about 90 percent of the world's production.

But more than a few economists question whether this body, with just three meetings under its belt, is up to the task of directing the world economy.

“It’s an ad hoc group,” says Simon Johnson, a former economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “They had a good meeting in April, but I don’t think they have demonstrated they are the world’s economic council.”

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