news Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 05:30

Chitra Subramaniam | The News Minute | January 21, 2015 | 6.28 pm IST 

The annual session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) opened in Davos today under clouds of incertitude and a gray sky as the world around grows indifferent and apart even from the anger in their hearts. 

From putting women at the centre of development to eliminating poverty and inequality to eradicating diseases and strengthening the world’s lungs and BRICS, the summiteers have exhausted all topics over two decades with little to show for it. If you go to the same people, you will get the same solutions – that is the predicament the WEF finds itself it. 

The estimated 1500 political, economic and business leaders and 40 heads of state meeting at this unremarkable ski station in eastern Switzerland also have a shadow cast over them in recent weeks – one following the recent attacks in Paris, Nigeria and Pakistan though they beyond statements, they are not unduly worried about the latter two. The western world which makes up for most of the summiteers (largest delegation is from the US) will be talking about jihadists threatening Europe, some will raise Ukraine, others the price of oil. 

Some politicians and businesspeople this reporter spoke to say the WEF is passé as it represents the end of the globalisation era unleashed by President Ronald Reagan (US) and Margaret Thatcher (UK) increasing one way traffic of goods and services, a process which was further hastened after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In the absence of any road map following that upheaval the very segments of industry and politics that destroyed hope and the emergence of new market is now turning around to say things are hopeless. 

They are. For a start, the financial turmoil in 2008 driven by the breathless greed of the super-rich ably assisted by the Wall Street consiglieri threw millions of people out of jobs and brought the world to the brink of an economic meltdown. As Oxfam report on inequality says by next year, one percent of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99 percent. The share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off one percent has increased from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014 while the bottom 80 percent currently own just 5.5 percent. The report also says that the wealth of the richest 80 doubled in cash terms in seven years beginning 2009. 

“Earlier we used to go to Davos to register our protests against the non-transparency of the meetings – now we think our energies are better spent in direct action, speaking to governments and multinational companies many of whom are in Davos and have contributed to the situation the world finds itself in today,” Géraldine Viret, spokesperson for the civil society group Déclaration de Bern (LADB) told The News Minute (TNM). “Davos will never discuss tax evasion or fiscal fraud – they can’t because it is too close for comfort,” she added. Fifty Swiss civil society groups have now come together to launch what they call Initiative for Responsible Multinationals with the principle aim of asking Swiss companies to apply in their international arms the same human rights and environmental standards they comply with in Switzerland. A complete project will be revealed in April. 

Criticism of too much money and decisions in too few hands has been dogging the WEF ever since the 2008 financial crisis. Alarmed at the proportions of disparity, Warren Buffet, the world’s fourth richest man had said “…there’s been a class war and my class has won.” Instead of money trickling down – about which tomes were written – money, defying all laws of gravity and logic, trickled up. 

Oil, financial markets, terrorism are some of the words doing the rounds this morning but there is no talk of public services and social protection or public health. The last health scare was Ebola which does not concern the summiteers. 

Irony died and will continue to die a million deaths in Davos this week as the summiteers (most of who are on company accounts) complain that their food, hotels and taxi- bills are 30% higher since last week, thanks to the Swiss Franc. Journalists are calling the WEF a shindig, gab-fest and love-fest etc. As you walk around the snow and ice, you do notice that there are no stalagmites, only stalactites. It was never meant to be trickle down and the two were never meant to unite – certainly not in this scheme of things.
Read a report about the Oxfam study

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