Davos 2017: Who are those guys?

The world’s most exclusive networking event opens in Davos following the rude shocks of 2016

 

If Davos, the world’s most exclusive networking event, represents any single issue or cause it is that of globalisation and free trade, the idea that there is a general consensus in a global commonality of interests. That we are best served – “entrepreneurship in the global public interest” – by all pulling together in the same direction.

But the last year has been a rude shock. And the gathering of 2,500 heads of state, political and academic leaders, and captains of industry at the World Economic Forum (WEF), opening today in the resort, is likely to reflect a new deep unease and bewilderment among attendees. “There is a consensus that something huge is going on, global and in many respects unprecedented,” Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says. “But we don’t know what the causes are, nor how to deal with it.”

Inevitably, Davos will be dominated by analysis of and fallout from Brexit and Trump, the poster child for a new strain of populism, and what a report commissioned for the meeting in Davos observes is the sharpest worldwide fall in public confidence in government, business, the media and NGOs since 2009. The discussion panels evoke the new landscape – “Squeezed and Angry: How to Fix the Middle Class Crisis”, “Politics of Fear or Rebellion of the Forgotten?”, “Tolerance at the Tipping Point?” and “The Post-EU Era”.

What is to blame? Popular hostility to trade in US/Europe, inequality, and China’s slowdown, say the IMF and WEF. Inequality, above all, says Oxfam, is fuelling social breakdown – its headline-grabbing press release claiming that eight billionaires, probably all at Davos, hold as much wealth as half of the world’s 7.2 billion people.

The star attraction this year is Xi Jinping, the first Chinese president ever to attend Davos, who will speak this morning and whose presence is seen as evidence of a new Chinese willingness to engage in global governance. He is expected to use the speech, as the Financial Times puts it, “to enhance his status as one of the few responsible adults left standing on the global stage.” Many may find it a reassuring act.

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