Four reasons why Davos is far from being our global economic saviour

| 23rd January 2018
Montage of mostly men speaking at Davos

A Google image search lends evidence to the argument that Davos is in the main "male, pale and stale". 

The Ecologist
The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in a luxury Swiss Ski Resort in Davos is underway. A great meeting of minds and money will discuss the 2018 agenda of ‘creating a shared future in a fractured world’. But is there a more ominous agenda: the protection of the powerful and the wealthy? KATIE HODGETTS investigates

Davos is inherently flawed: it a place where problems of inequality are discussed by the most fortunate, where problems of the patriarchy are discussed predominantly by men, where the problem of climate change is being discussed by the biggest polluters.

Beyond waning diets and broken resolutions, 2018 has ushered in a fresh batch of serious questions about the direction that global capitalism will take.

Promises of post-crash reform have not materialised, and this year inequality has worsened further, with 42 people holding the same wealth as the poorest 3.7 billion.

The once quiet hum of disquiet over the unequal distribution of the spoils of globalisation is now a crescendo, manifesting itself in a deep societal anger and rising support for populism. 

This, matched to the increasing seriousness of climate change, has led people to turn to intellectual and cultural leaders for change.

The WEF’s Davos meeting claims to be paving the way, but economic and ecological respite will not be generated from the top. Rather, the Davos ‘Globalization Winners Club’ is marred by four grave flaws.   

Inequality 

If inequality is a serious issue on the agenda as the WEF reports, then the meeting itself is inherently faulty by design.

In short, the guest list comprises of the three great architects that instituted the economic and political landscape of recent history: the Rich, the Powerful and the Famous. 

The meeting will be attended by global leaders and global millionaires, including the man who fits both – Donald Trump.

Joining Trump are 16 other world leaders, billionaire hedge-fund boss Ray Dalio and Barclay’s and Lloyd’s big bankers. Oh and naturally Elton John will be there too.     

What does this mean? It means that crucial questions of the legitimacy of the 1 percent will be discussed by the 1 percent.

It means that the issue of widespread inequality, which underscores the major social and ecological crises of our time, will be debated by the people who benefit from and contribute to it most. This is inherently unjust and hampers meaningful discussion and policy change.    

Inequality is not a new agenda topic to Davos. For many years it has remained at the top of discussion points, and all the while inequality has worsened.

This is because the real solutions to inequality – meaningful action against shell companies, off-shore accounts and tax havens; strong environmental and social regulation on corporations; rulings to block high-profile mergers and acquisitions; nationalisation– work in stark contrast to the private interest of the attendees of Davos.

And so instead they cite economic growth and trickle-down economics as the road to liberation.     

Diversity 

The infamously pale-male-and-stale demographic of Davos is boasting a change in its ways with the first ever all-female-panel co-chairing the event; a first in the WEF’s 48 year history.

And whilst this should be celebrated, this weak token of gender parity is overshadowed by the overall gender ratio of four men for every woman.

A lack of gender balance is matched by a lack of diversity. The self-proclaimed ‘World’ Economic Forum will be attended by a disproportionate number of Americans, almost three times more than the second highest attending nationality - the UK. 

The dominance of US voices is likely to reflect the Western development model based on neoliberalism and a blind faith in technology.

With a disparity in global representation, there is insufficient diversity to escape the neoliberal echo-chamber in which Western states tend to be situated.

Solutions to climate change and inequality are unlikely be found here, within the global headquarters of free-market economics and anarcho-capitalism. 

Furthermore, gaining access to different negotiation spaces is a case of who can afford to pay rather than who has intellectual merit or is a relevant stakeholder.

This works to exclude those who are being hit the hardest by economic and ecological issues, like representatives from small island developing states who have a shrinking voice at Davos. 

Climate Change 

Last week the WEF released its Global Risks Report, placing climate change and environmental degradation at the top of global risks.

Davos dialogue however is dominated by questions of global markets, mass-automation, the digital age, cyber security, crypto-asset bubbles and other wealth-entrenching topics.   

Of the extensive five-day programme, the first mention of ‘climate’ is on day four. Only two seminars explicitly refer to climate change, and only one refers to our oceans. 

With the average age of attendees at above 50, discussions of climate change and its future impacts takes less precedence, being considered as an amorphous distant phenomenon.   

Economic growth 

There is growing disillusionment outside of Davos around ‘economic growth’ as the dogmatic development indicator.

When used as the primary measurement, it ignores social measures such as mental health statistics, suicide rates, gender parity, and wealth distribution.

Its basis in econometrics multiplies and divides over vital measures of human happiness such as environmental and labour legislation, access to nature, levels of human interaction and social capital.

Whilst this year’s meeting has had more discussion around these social topics, there is a persistent reluctance to recognise their relationship to this economic growth fiscal fixation.

There is reluctance to truly address any issue that signals a need for systemic reform. By glossing over these issues, or insufficiently connecting the dots, the wealthy and the powerful protect the system they have so benefitted from. 

So what next?

Davos is inherently flawed: it a place where problems of inequality are discussed by the most fortunate, where problems of the patriarchy are discussed predominantly by men, where the problem of climate change is being discussed by the biggest polluters.

Meaningful solutions based on equity and social justice will not be found in this dialogue.      

We must ask critical questions about the structure of our society that entrenches an unfavourable capitalism for the many. Davos has its part to play here. 

Who creates the problems, and who creates the answers? Are they the same people? Is Davos a meeting to make positive change, or is it largely a networking opportunity for the 1 percent?

Will the collective squeal of disquiet overpower the clinking of champagne glasses, or was Adam Smith correct in 1776 when he argued, "all for ourselves and nothing for other people seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind"?

This Author

Katie Hodgetts works in the Economic Justice team at Friends of the Earth Europe, and can be found on twitter at @katiehodgettssx

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