The World Economic Forum still has a role to play if it moves with the timesby George Magnus / January 21, 2019 / Leave a comment
It’s mid-late January, and that means it’s time for the meeting of the World Economic Forum in the picturesque Swiss mountain village of Davos. Held annually since 1971, it kicks off later this week and draws in about 3,000 of the world’s leading politicians, corporate executives, financiers, academics, NGO representatives—and a fawning media. It’s the catwalk of the global elite.
Once a confident celebration of the virtues of globalisation, Davos has had to come to terms with a radically different global environment. It still has noble aims and it has always been a great networking event, at which important things happen at private meetings. Yet in the long shadow of the financial crisis, it has also become a bit of an anachronism.
It seems to belong to another era. In recent years, democracy, if we define it as consisting of free and fair elections, respect for the rule of law and parliamentary procedure, and institutions and norms that protect minorities and tend to their interests, has been on the slide. More and more countries have swung towards authoritarian or populist forms of government.
The global economic system and governance structure with which Davos was associated certainly needs reform, and while some attack Davos out of malice and jealousy, it has attracted deserved criticism for its focus on issues out of kilter with the concerns of most people—not to mention the cringe-worthiness of its corporatist-speak.
Who, for example, believes that this year’s theme, “Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution” doesn’t sound rather pretentious, when an alternative “Addressing the Redistribution and Employment Consequences of New Technologies” might have focused more minds more effectively on the challenge? Or what about last year’s theme “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”? How did that work out, members of the World Economic Forum?
These are complex, multi-year challenges that require persistent attention, and a sensitivity about how we should frame policy in the public arena and private sector to cope with the consequences. Instead, annual changes in grandstanding themes convey an impression nowadays of fickleness and shallowness. In a poll of WEF members’ biggest concerns for this year’s gathering, at a time when the most pressing issues in the world economy include income inequality, the funk in productivity, infrastructure needs, and…