Income disparity tops the agenda at Davos

Minister for Finance and Taoiseach will push investment in Ireland at Swiss summit

More than 2,500 political and business leaders descend on the snowy peaks of Davos today to discuss growing income disparity and increased pressure on mental health in an online world.

After three years dominating the agenda, the euro crisis is likely to take a back seat at the 44th annual World Economic Forum (WEF) to the crisis in Syria and the future of Iran in the global community. Other priority issues are the recovery of the world economy, climate change and gender issues.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will make his third appearance at the four-day event, joined by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, to push post-bailout Ireland's return to the international markets.

Mr Kenny will meet US treasury secretary Jacob Lew as well as business leaders such as Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Citi Group European chief executive James Cowles.

Irish achievements
Mr Noonan said he would update leaders on Ireland's recent achievements and challenges ahead. "We must take full advantage of every opportunity to drive investment to Ireland," he said. "Davos is a great opportunity and platform to promote Ireland as a world-class destination for investment."

Rubbing shoulders with leaders from Britain, Mexico and Japan and IMF chief Christine Lagarde, Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan will also hold meetings and attend an IDA event for existing and potential foreign investors in Ireland.

Though less urgent, the euro zone is not entirely absent from the agenda, with Kenny joining European Commission president José Manuel Barroso and Swedish prime minister Fredrick Reinfeldt to discuss how to close Europe’s “competitiveness gap”.

Iranian view
WEF delegates will hear Iranian president Hassan Rouhani present Iran's view of its place in the world, the first attendance by an Iranian leader in a decade.

The small Swiss town entered lockdown during the night, with soldiers rolling out razor wire barriers and several airports’ worth of metal detectors to guard more than 40 heads of state and government in attendance.

Having a palette of demanding issues, rather than one dominant theme, is reflected in this year's somewhat opaque slogan: The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business.

WEF founder Klaus Schwab said yesterday he wanted leaders meeting in Davos to step outside their respective crisis modes – from the mop-up after the global financial crisis to ongoing Middle East tensions – and push the reset button.

Helping the masters – and mistresses – of the universe manage their stress will be actor Goldie Hawn, giving a talk tomorrow on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.

Trust in government is continues to slide, according to a WEF survey, with a marked decline in trust among US citizens in their leaders – from 53 to 37 per cent. Mr Schwab’s message to wealthy attendees this year is that they ignore global demands, such as great equality on wealth or progress on climate change, at their own peril.

“The forum has a great opportunity to tell the business community: you have to act in the global public interest,” said Mr Schwab.

Ahead of the forum, Oxfam distributed a report showing that the richest 85 people in the world – many in Davos today – have the same amount of wealth – $1.7 trillion – as the bottom half of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people.

“It is staggering that in the 21st century, half of the world’s population – that’s 3½ billion people – own no more than [do] a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus,” said Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima, attending at Davos.

Oxfam will be asking delegates to sign a personal commitment to meet their personal tax responsibilities and not to use their wealth to seek political favours.

Stroke and cajole
Mr Schwab admitted yesterday the challenge of his annual meeting, with the motto of "improving the state of the world", is how to stroke and cajole, without biting, the corporate hand that feeds the forum.

The estimated price for a single ticket is around 20,000 Swiss francs (€16,000).

There are various packages on offer to companies: some 110 concerns pay 500,000 Swiss francs for the “strategic partner” title, including panel discussion positions. Another 500 companies pay 250,000 francs each.

Other Irish attendees this year include Dublin Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave and Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.

In a message to delegates, Pope Francis called for an inclusive approach to leadership that "embraces a renewed, profound and broadened sense of responsibility on the part of all".