Just over a year ago, Australian taxpayers forked out $400 million to host the annual G20 summit of global political and business elites in Brisbane, where they devised lavish action plans to steer the world economy into a fresh burst of recovery. They vowed their ambitious global growth targets were achievable.
Fourteen months on and the global economy is tanking. Sharemarkets around the world shredded $15 trillion in the latest bout of market mayhem. Fears are growing that more than $200 trillion of debt is about to snuff out growth in emerging economies.
China – which has accounted for most of global growth in recent times – has moved into the slow lane as it grapples with its own Wall Street-style financial instability.
Then there are the rapacious rates of economic inequality that now define global free markets in the 21st century.
In sum, the world is waking up to the reality that in 2016 it is shackled to an increasingly incoherent and stagnating economic system.
Most of us would like markets to work the way they promote themselves. Most of us would like the grand plans of our G20 leaders to come to fruition. Who can argue against benign, steady growth and spreading prosperity for all?
But with the latest shocks ripping through global markets, two lessons are clear.
The first is the big promises made about globalising markets a quarter of a century ago after the fall of communism are now so much dust. These promises, still repeated by free-marketeers, can be summarised as follows.
Globalised markets would promote higher rates of growth to replace the sclerotic economic systems of the 1970s and '80s, organised around state intervention and ownership.
The reality, however, is advanced market economies like Europe and the United States have been stuck in a low-growth trajectory for more than 10 years. With China now struggling, global capitalism now risks being mired in an indefinite period of stagnation.
Another key claim was that global markets, with their mass of "rational" market signals, would create smoother, more predictable growth. Yet market volatility now occurs more frequently with sharper gyrations, amplifying the risk of financial crisis.
Some observers are now openly predicting the inevitability, sooner not later, of another global mega-meltdown as big or bigger than the 2007 global financial crisis.
Another promise was that global markets – with their unrelenting emphasis on competition – would unleash human potential and opportunity on an unprecedented scale.
It certainly has for the 62 people who now own half the world's total wealth. But these cosmic-sized wealth disparities, fed by globalised markets, are creating huge underclasses – not just in the Third World but also in advanced economies, where many – particularly the young – will live their lives stuck in low-paying, no-skill jobs with little hope or opportunity.
Finally, it was claimed giving markets a global stage to incentivise and organise society would lessen the role and importance of governments.
Yet many governments have been forced to spend more dramatically, and are deeper in debt than ever to keep the whole global market show on the road.
Much of this debt increase over the past 10 years is attributable to GFC-related bailouts and post-GFC pump-priming to try to mitigate stagnating economic growth.
Which bring us to the second lesson, which should be abundantly clear a year or so after the Brisbane G20 summit: our global elites have no idea where the global economy is heading, let alone have the ability to steer it.
They have no idea how to stimulate higher growth or solve rampant inequality. Their repeated solution is to proffer more deregulation and reduced business taxes: the cure for the illness is to inject more of the illness.
The real problem is this. They fail to see that spreading free markets across the world over the past 25 years was, and remains, a dangerous double-edged sword.
Yes, it has bought benefits. We have gained access to more and varied goods and services, and an aggregate rise in living standards (even if the sharing of these benefits is becoming wildly unequal). But the costs and realities are now clearly outweighing the benefits and the promises.
Markets now have a largely unfettered global stage with which to amass their inherent flaws of instability, inequality and greed.
What has tipped these flaws into deep and deteriorating dysfunction is the rapid digitalisation of global economies and finance over the past two decades. Virtual money is now created in mind-boggling volumes, with mind-boggling complexity, and sent at mind-boggling speeds to all corners of the globe.
It's all good, when it works. But when global-sized fear and uncertainty kicks in, markets now have an unprecedented capacity to spread contagion, instability and value destruction in the blink of an eye.
Markets may recover some of their recent losses and, for a short time, appear to be back in business. But the one certainty we have is that stagnation, inequality and crisis will worsen, because nothing and no one can fix them. Something will have to give.
As for the $400 million Australians spent on global elites to come up with plans for a happier economic future? We can only write it off as another dud investment in a global sea of bad returns.
Mark Triffitt lectures in politics and public policy at the University of Melbourne.