The World Economic Forum, that epitome of the rich man’s club, where all those who are rich and all those who are powerful, discuss poverty and problems ensconced in the best amenities that riches could buy, met again in Davos in 2007 amidst growing disquiet over signs of economic slowdown and global warming. On the agenda were sessions on ‘Housing deflation: What’s that hissing sound?,’ ‘The future of the dollar,’ and gloomy musings on ‘The state of US leadership’ over dinner with John Kerry and other US Senators and Congressmen. For variety, there were sessions on ‘Why do brains sleep,’ ‘The age of the avatar and multiple identities’ and such other venerable topics.
Even though at this time last year chances of a US recession were still far off, it seems abundantly clear from the topics under discussion that the US economy was already causing a lot of concern to the leaders. The role of the hedge funds came in for a close scrutiny, as did the rising salaries of the CEOs, for long a hotly debated topic in the US.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, outlined her vision for Germany’s leadership of the EU and the G8 which, while cautionary, was anything but gloomy. World leaders also mulled over the rise of the Gulf states, as a financial hub and debated about the contribution of immigration (as manpower) on industrialised societies. Which, to my mind is in significant contrast to the debate currently on in the UK (where new stringent immigration laws have recently been passed) and USA, which is heading towards elections in the backdrop of a rancorous debate on the place of immigrants in the American society.
So that the Powers of Tomorrow India and China may not feel neglected, China’s role was debated under the head ‘In China, does big equate to world-beater? Debate on Chinese industrial policy and state-owned enterprises.’ If it sounds like another attempt to twist the tail of the Chinese dragon, one shouldn’t wonder; upstarts must be shown their place. India got its due in ‘India – managing the global services economy’.
The heat of global warming finally started getting to our leaders, even, it seems in their air-conditioned meeting halls. Much was made of the global warming and as many as 17 sessions were devoted to it. Even heads of corporations, who are accused of causing the warming in the first place, joined in the discussions.
One must not suppose it was all an exercise in futility, all sound and no substance. Those who are unaware are hereby informed that an international partnership called the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB), made up of seven organisations will work together to establish a generally accepted framework for climate risk-related reporting by corporations. So there.
No, it is not that these discussions are not important, they are, and when the going finally gets so tough that change is inevitable, it will be in these fora where it will be first debated and voiced. The problem with sessions of this sort, where not just politicians and CEOs are invited but also NGOs and spiritual leaders, is that they have too little a say in decisions that matter. For instance even if the forum was to come to the conclusion that the Iraq war was futile and should come to an immediate end, the US government would not be constrained to follow that verdict.
The moral prerogative and the global perspective, on which these fora are based, is in complete opposition to the policy of self-interest on which all governments and corporations base their policy. And this self-interested attitude has the sanctity and support, which cannot at present be overturned. Until that happens one cannot expect much to come out of these sessions.