Just showing up counted for a lot.
Leaders may have not quite rewritten the rules of global finance in a weekend. But they still accomplished much by gathering in such large numbers – both the older economic powerhouses and the newer, fast-growing ones – to grapple with the world's financial panic and pledging to work together to contain it.
That rare show of unity, and a vow to work to better regulate global markets and to reform creaky 1940s-vintage financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, enabled leaders to proclaim the summit a success.
It also signaled a shifting balance of power on the world stage in which important emerging economies are demanding a stronger voice.
And the summit posed a challenge for the incoming administration of President-elect Obama, who wasn't at the meeting. It puts pressure on him to join other leaders in restructuring the global financial system soon after taking office.
Saturday's statement by summit leaders contained broad themes but little in the way of concrete proposals. They can be developed at subsequent meetings, including one in April.
“You have to give credit to the leaders for coming together and to the administration for organizing the meeting and to getting this off the ground. But it's going to be even more difficult to land it someplace,” said Steven Schrage, a trade official in President Bush's first term.
The makeup of the weekend session was as important as its communique advocating comprehensive reform.
In the past, economic summits have mainly been held with a select few players – principally the world's top seven old-world industrial democracies: the U.S., Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada. More recently, Russia joined the club, bringing the number to eight.
But at Bush's behest, attendance was expanded to more than 20 and included many important economies that had been excluded in the past, such as China, India and Brazil.
In all, the session was attended by leaders of countries that account for 90 percent of the world's economic output. They were not just finance ministers but heads of state.
In the future, the larger grouping may become the norm for dealing with knotty economic problems.
“We've got to get beyond the G-8, because China and India are getting to be too big as players to ignore,” said David Wyss, chief economist for Standard & Poor's.
India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said countries excluded in the past must be included in the future. “We need to ensure that any new architecture we design is genuinely multilateral with adequate representation from countries reflecting changes in economic realities,” he said.
Recognizing his days as “the decider” are all but over, Bush tried to make the most of his lame-duck status by picking the venue for the meeting, selecting the guest list and appealing to world leaders not to try to reinvent the free-market system. But his ability to drive the agenda was limited.
“Our economies are being hit very hard. And so there was a common understanding that all of us should promote pro-growth economic policy,” Bush said in summing up the session. “There is more work to be done and there will be further meetings, sending a clear signal that a (single) meeting is not going to solve the world's problems.”