Donald Trump’s US election victory and the UK’s vote to leave the European Union will cast a long shadow over the global elite’s annual gathering in the Swiss ski resort of Davos this week.
This year, 3,000 politicians, business leaders, economists, entrepreneurs, charity leaders and celebrities will head to the World Economic Forum (WEF) to discuss the state of the world. As usual there’ll be big speeches, ultra-tight security, and experts in every field under the wintry sun. There’ll also be plenty of champagne and canapes for delegates gathering in expensive hotels to discuss issues such as inequality and the backlash against globalisation.
But this year’s WEF won’t be the same. Twelve months of seismic shocks have shaken Davos Man and Woman’s world view, and left them struggling to understand and address the new reality. These seven key themes will dominate this year’s meeting:
Trump and the rise of populism
The official theme of this year’s forum is “responsive and responsible leadership”. It’s a timely issue, as Donald Trump heads to the Oval Office.
Trump is the living, breathing, tweeting antithesis of the WEF and its belief in “multi-stakeholder” solutions: the idea that big problems are solved by working together, rather than by isolationism and protectionism. The president-elect’s ability to tap into public anger and disenchantment has shocked Davos into talking of a crisis of western democracy.
WEF founder Klaus Schwab wants leaders to respond to populism by sticking to their core values and “honestly explaining the breadth and complexity” of the world’s problems. But he admits that regaining public trust is a daunting task. “There has to be a recognition that we are in unmapped territory that placed the status quo, and by extension leaders themselves, into question,” he said.
Trump won’t be at Davos, but one of his top advisers, financier Anthony Scaramucci, will outline the new administration’s priorities on Tuesday.
The Obama era will be represented by outgoing vice-president Joe Biden, who will hold meetings and keep pushing his Cancer Moonshot project.
Reform of capitalism
Eight years after the financial crisis, Davos recognises that stronger economic growth alone isn’t enough to fix the world’s problems. WEF’s global risks report, released last week, argues that a “growing mood of anti-establishment populism” means market capitalism must now be reformed, and several panels will examine how this could happen. One panel will consider the plight of the “squeezed and angry” middle classes, with contributions from International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio.
Davos will also examine whether it’s time to give all citizens a basic income, to cushion them from the impact of technological change.
“Machines, the argument goes, can take the jobs, but should not take the incomes: the job uncertainty that engulfs large swaths of society should be matched by a welfare policy that protects the masses, not only ‘the poor’,” said World Bank senior economist Ugo Gentilini. “Hence, basic income grants emerge as a straightforward option for the digital era – one seemingly backed by Silicon Valley and trade unions alike.”
Being lectured on the importance of “inclusive globalisation” by a communist leader will be a new experience for Davos delegates. Trump’s election is expected to create a vacuum in global leadership, and Xi Jinping could be the man to fill it. He’ll become the first Chinese president to attend Davos, and will lead an unprecedented 80-strong delegation of business leaders, economists, academics and journalists.
Xi will deliver the opening plenary address on Tuesday, and use it to defend cooperation and economic globalisation. He’s expected to warn that countries could face rising confrontation, poverty and war if they descend into protectionism and isolationism.
With Trump committed to withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Xi can now push for a Beijing-led trade deal. But he’ll also face pressure from European leaders, who are unhappy about Chinese firms dumping cheap exports, including steel, on their markets.
Environmental issues are as important as ever this year, with campaigners worried that the Trump administration will scrap US commitments to tackling global warming. A group of scientist are setting up an “Arctic Basecamp” summit in Davos, to lobby delegates about the dangers of climate change. Temperatures at the top of the world were “alarmingly high” last Christmas, they say, with some parts of the Arctic region 20C warmer than usual.
Former US vice-president Al Gore is attending, as is Christiana Figueres, who led the UN convention on climate change. They should find a receptive audience: environmental issues dominated the WEF’s annual survey of global risks for 2017 behind the threat of nuclear war.
The “fourth industrial revolution” will once again be a key theme at this year’s Davos, where the focus will be on the problems created by technologies such as smart robots and driverless cars. The WEF will examine whether the loss to these innovations of millions of jobs is undermining social cohesion and contributing to the rise of populist parties.
Davos will also consider whether increased use of artificial intelligence and the “internet of things” are laying firms open to a new wave of cyberthreats and security beaches. This area of technology has until now been only lightly regulated; is the world ready to hand more decision-making powers to machines?
Delegates will also ponder the dangers posed by “weaponised” AI systems and smart robots. The WEF warns that autonomous weapons systems could be designed to “swarm” over a nation’s existing military defences, overwhelming them in a massive coordinated attack.
“This risks upsetting the global equilibrium by neutralising the defence systems on which it is founded,” it goes on. “This would lead to a very unstable international configuration, encouraging escalation and arms races and the replacement of deterrence by pre-emption.”
A year ago, it was hard to find many people at Davos who though that Britain either should, or would, vote to leave the European Union. Like Trump’s victory, the Brexit vote dealt a blow to WEF’s underlying principles – and fuelled the argument that they don’t really understand today’s world.
On Friday, chancellor Phillip Hammond will outline his vision for the UK-EU relationship, and its implications for investment and migration. Barclays chief executive Jes Staley will give his views, amid fears that the City could lose tens of thousands of jobs.
London mayor Sadiq Khan is taking his fight against a “reckless”Brexit to Davos. He will give a speech to business leaders, and hold talks with other politicians as part of his push for “privileged access” to the single market.
Helping the developing world
More than half of the sessions at Davos are on the subject of social inclusion and development, as the WEF tries to live up to its commitment to improve the state of the world. A sprinkling of celebrity stardust among the snow may help get these issue noticed.
Musician Shakira will discuss her work establishing schools for underprivileged children in Colombia, and actor Forest Whitaker will outline his foundation’s efforts to foster peace and reconciliation in disadvantaged parts of the world. They’re both collecting awards from the WEF – along with musician Anne-Sophie Mutter for her support for young musicians.
Hollywood star Matt Damon is also back at Davos, to promote his Water.org charity, which seeks to end deaths from unclean drinking water.
This article was sourced from http://newsquizpodcast.com