The 49th World Economic Forum
Annual Meeting in Davos
From left: Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum; Basima Abdulrahman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, KESK Green Building Consulting, Iraq; Cultural Leader, Juan David Aristizabal, President and Co-Founder, Los Zuper; Noura Berrouba, Member of the Governing Body, European Youth Parliament; Julia Luscombe, Director, Strategic Initiatives, Feeding America, USA; Akira Sakano, Chair, Board of Directors, Zero Waste Academy Japan; Mohammed Hassan Mohamud, Zonal Chairman, Kakuma, Kenya; and Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer, Microsoft Corporation, USA, during the Session "Shaping Globalization 4.0" at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 22, 2019.
World leaders in favor of international cooperation and free trade struck back on January 23 against the wave of populist nationalism that has featured more prominently than usual at the gathering of elites in Davos, Switzerland, according to the AP from Davos, Switzerland. The leaders of Japan and Germany - countries that have flourished on trade since their devastation under nationalist leaders in World War II - focused on the need for cooperation. It was a not-so-subtle dig at earlier speeches by the populist president of Brazil and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said governments should focus more on national self-interest over international rules. "I believe that it's worth bringing together like-minded people around the world, because anything else will lead us into despair," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She said efforts to combat global problems - from an economic slowdown to tensions over trade, Brexit and migration - "will only function if we are able to compromise." As the world's financial and political elites convene here in the Swiss Alps for the World Economic Forum, their vision of ever-closer commercial and political ties is under attack - and the economic outlook is darkening. How times have changed. For most of the past quarter century, the world view symbolized by the World Economic Forum - of ever-freer world trade and closer ties between countries - had dominated. Then came a backlash from Americans and Europeans whose jobs were threatened by low-wage competi-tion from countries like China and who felt alienated at home by wealth inequality and immigration. The Davos confab has always been vulnerable to snark: hedge fund billionaires flying into Davos in fuel-guzzling private jets to discuss the threat of climate change; millionaire CEOs discussing inequality while downing cocktails; endless conversations between people who describe themselves as "thought leaders." First among them, perhaps, is WEF founder Klaus Schwab. He stressed the need for more global, "forward-looking" cooperation and a "human-centered" approach to technology as populism feeds on fears of a possible economic downturn in many parts of the globe. Globalization produced millions of "winners" over the years, but also "has left certain people behind," Schwab said at the Davos conference center, where his teams gave pre-event tours to delegations ahead of the formal start. "In the age of social media, you cannot afford any more to leave anyone behind," he said. Access to the elite gathering, for businesspeople anyway, doesn't come cheap. It requires WEF membership, which starts at 60,000 Swiss francs (US$60,259) and rises up to the "Strategic Partner" level at 600,000 (US$602,605). Getting into the Davos event requires an invitation and an extra fee, which WEF spokesman Oliver Cann said is 27,000 francs (US$27,117) per person. Even with some key Western leaders missing, a record 300 government ministers and nearly 60 heads of state or government including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan attended. Davos serves as a global stage for world leaders and executives, and the conference center transforms into a warren of public and private meetings. Executives talk about possible deals. Government leaders either meet and greet each other or seek to iron out differences - mostly quietly. Academics and chiefs of non-governmental groups speak out in webcast panel sessions or comb corridors looking to rub elbows with decision-makers. "They make the trek up to Davos, yes, to drink champagne and to wheel and deal and everything else," said Sheard, who participates in WEF projects. "But there is sort of an attempt at purification and thinking, 'We need to do a better job.'" The ride could get even bumpier. The World Economic Forum is focusing on what it calls the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" - a series of rapid advances in technology and medicine expected to transform society. Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence could further threaten jobs and feed the populist revolt.★