WHEN the World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded in Davos, Switzerland in January, the outcome of the annual talk-fest was seemingly predictable — plenty of unrestrained platitudes but, surprisingly, less of the American populist, protectionist rhetoric.
The presence of United States President Donald Trump was a political side-show as he proudly declared that America was “open for business” — even as standup comedian Jimmy Kimmel wisecracked: “And who better to make that declaration than a man who declared bankruptcy six different times.” (When Trump was a self-declared “billionaire” businessman before he ran for the US presidency.)
Ben Phillips, Launch Director at the Nairobi-based Fight Inequality Alliance, told IPS: “Davos is over. This is not merely to say that the private helicopters have taken their charges back to private airstrips for their onward journey home. This year, 2018, was the nail in the coffin for the idea that Davos could change the world.”
He described the Davos Forum as a “speed-dating club for plutocrats and politicians”. But, the idea that it would be a force for a more equal society was dead, he added.
Last week, WEF boss Klaus Schwab embraced Trump, complaining that Trump’s “strong leadership” had suffered “misconceptions and biased interpretations”.
According to the New York Times, some in the audience booed at Schwab’s remarks.
Davos was now Trump-Davos: the racism and cruelty of Trump was forgiven, said Phillips.
“And Trump became Davos-Trump: his claimed revolt against globalisation is now exposed as merely an attack on poor migrants and not a challenge to the global elite. Goldman Sachs — once the target of Trump’s rhetoric but now the source of his key cabinet picks, was clear. They “really like what he’s done for the economy”, Phillips said.
Jennifer Morgan, executive director, Greenpeace International, told IPS she saw no evidence that the corporate or government leaders in Davos understood the need to provide justice for the people or the planet.
However, she said, she was inspired by many of the young global shapers, particularly women, whom she met, leading the way with big ideas and collective leadership.
She pointed out that climate risk and climate action were more present in discussions at Davos this year, but not at the speed or scale required when measured against the scale of the challenge we face.
“Climate disruption is the new norm, which means a transformation of our energy and land-use systems is the only way forward,” she noted.
Phillips told IPS it had not just been the embrace of Trump, however, that had ended the myth of Davos as an equalising force. It was the consistent failure of Davos to deliver.
“For years now, Davos has listed inequality as a major concern, and yet, has also noted that it keeps increasing. (Don’t these leaders have any influence?)”, he asked.
As the world’s foremost expert on inequality trends, former World Bank economist Branko Milanovic concluded last week, Davos has “produced zero results” in lessening inequality — while the economy has been further adjusted by inequality-exacerbating policies that have returned us to the “early 19th century”.
For students of history, noted Phillips, this should all be unsurprising: never, at any time or place, have great strides been made in tackling the concentration of power and wealth by a few by literally concentrating together those powerful and wealthy few.
Indeed, all major equalising change has involved a process of those outside the elite gathering together, building confidence and strength, and pushing for a fairer share.
Greater equality has never been freely given, it has always been won through collective struggle, said Phillips.
Striking a different perspective to Davos, Phillips said “happily, last week was a week when that process of people organising together for change also took a step forward. But not on the Davos mountain, but on very different mountains.”
As the media summarized it “Forget Davos — Dandora is the key to tackling inequality.”
Dandora in Nairobi is a slum at the top of a garbage mountain, and it was there, not at the World Economic Forum, that non-governmental organisations, social movements and trade unions, who have come together in the global Fight Inequality Alliance, centred their organising.
It will take time, they said, but from the garbage mountain top, they felt, in an echo of Dr King and of the captives who ran from the Pharaoh, that they could see the promised land, declared Phillips. IPS