The Davos Delusion: What You Need to Know

Today, British Prime Minister David Cameron joins the great and the good at the annual World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.  Today’s article pulls back the curtain on this secretive hub of neoliberalism.
Davos? What the Hell is Davos?
You might have noticed the world’s media have donned ski wear and retreated to the alpine mountain beauty of Switzerland.  In fact, there is a lot of talk of Davos in the television news, the print media and various radio reports.  Yet, what is happening in Davos?  Who attends? What is the purpose of this behind closed doors annual meeting?
Davos is the location of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).  The World Economic Forum describes itself as an independent, not for profit foundation which aims to ‘make the world a better place’. It purports to have no political agenda.
In reality, the Forum is the driving force of neoliberalism.  Put more simply, this is where political and business leaders come together to decide what our world is going to look like.  In fact, the World Economic Forum recently published a report of its 40 year history entitled. ‘The World Economic Forum: A Partner in Shaping History’.
The WEF is the brain child of German economist Klaus Schwab.  It first opened its doors to Europe’s business leaders in 1971 as the European Management Forum.  Its unabashed goal was the expansion of free market capitalism across Europe and the world.  However, in 1973, Davos went global – taking on social and political aswell as economic issues.  By 1984, the group rebranded as the World Economic Forum.
They hold a conference every January in Davos, Switzerland – each meeting has a theme.  This year’s theme is the redundantly titled ‘Resilient Dynamism’.  The wine flows, the media has only limited access (reduced to the role of exhuberant cheerleader) and in the private meeting rooms, the rulers of the world make the deals which dictate conditions for billions of human beings across the globe.
Who Attends Davos?
Only those who matter.  This year there will be 2,630 so called global leaders from the fields of economics, business, science, politics and civil society.
There will be 680 company Chief Executives, together with 39 bankers from the likes of Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, UBS, HSBC, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan.
There will be 300 politicians and bureaucrats.   These include the serving premiers of Britain, Israel, Italy and Russia.  There will be ‘influential’ politicians who are now out of office: the ubiquitous Tony Blair, former US President Bill Clinton and our very own Gordon Brown.   Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford will also be in attendance.  Un General Secretary Ban Ki Moon and representatives from UNESCO and UNICEF will also attend.
The Show within the ‘Show in the Snow’
Klaus Schwab has often referred to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum as the ‘show in the snow’.  However, there is a show within the show at Davos.  There is the open, broadcast Davos – which you can buy a ticket to for a mere £45,000.  However, the real show only opens with a backstage pass for the starting price of £98,500.  The first ticket will get you access to the public face of Davos:  A bunch of well meaning professionals from myriad fields working together to find holistic solutions to contemporary issues.  Meanwhile, the people who can afford the £100k plus price range are backstage where the issues look a little different: How can we expand free market capitalism?  How can we remove what regulation remains on our respective industries? How can we open up (deregulate and privatise) more economies?
Davos is a wonderful metaphor for neoliberalism itself:

  • It claims to be about global development, human rights, innovation and prosperity.  In reality, it is the political idea which brought prosperity for some on the backs of suffering of others. 
  • Like 21st century Capitalism itself, it claims to be post ideological, when it is anything but.  The ideology is that free market capitalism is inherently a force for good in the world, and that economic development and free market capitalism are synonymous.
  • Like neoliberalism it claims to be open, inclusive and democractic – yet the real conversations and decisions are made behind closed doors by representatives based on their ability to buy a seat at the table.

What has Davos achieved?
Champions of Davos (and neoliberalism more broadly) point to the Davos Declarations as their key successes in guiding economic development around the globe.  One might think the current crisis of zombie economies propped up by heavily burdened tax payers might give the ‘yeay sayers’ food for thought.  No.
So let us remind ourselves exactly where we are in 2013.
In 2013, the five largest land owners are all royals, with our very own Queen Elizabeth II at the top of the pile:
Largest five personal landowners on Earth
Queen Elizabeth II
6,600 million acres
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
553 million acres
King Bhumibol of Thailand
126 million acres
King Mohammed IV of Morocco
113 million acres
Sultan Quaboos of Oman
76 million acres
In 2013, the world’s richest 0.1% own 81% of the world’s wealth.    While the bottom 99.9% hold only 19% of the wealth.  The richest 0.001% of the world own a whole 30% of the wealth.  
In 2013, global unemployment will hit a record high with 200 million people without work.
In 2013, 925 million of the world’s people are undernourished and hungry through lack of food. 

In 2013, 8 million people will die because they are too poor to stay alive in this world.

It is unregulated free market capitalism, expanded across the globe by its political wingman Neoliberalism, which has proven itself the harbinger, not the healer of poverty and inequality.
Whilst the floor show at Davos claims to resolve these issues, the deals made backstage are the very cause of the crisis. While Bono demands justice for Africa in the ballroom, Goldman Sachs bankers brokers its demise in the backroom.
Well, as always, we keep challenging the paradigm.  You can support (or join) the groups who protest at Davos, but also in their local communities.  You can print this piece out and post it up on notice boards around your office, university or school.  You can volunteer at your local soup kitchenor food bank.  You can start or join you local community garden.  You can personally withdraw from globalised neoliberalism, shop local, grow local, share your surplus food (grown or purchased).
There are so many inspirational projects and people out there making changes, big and small, in the lives of others and you can join them.  The answers to all our ills lie with us, and we need to become as effective at solving them with solidarity as the elites at Davos are at causing them.

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