Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tim Weber Calls Out Davos Hypocrisy

I just finished reading Tim Weber’s preview piece on the BBC News Web site for the convening of the World Economic Forum in Davos.  I cannot fault the wording of his headline:

Davos 2012: Has capitalism got a future?

This at least acknowledges that the whole framework in which economic issues are discussed may require serious rethinking.  Weber then suggests that such rethinking may be given serious attention this year:

The eurozone, the financial sector, poverty, inequality, corporate responsibility and the rise of China: They all feature heavily in both the sessions organised by the forum, which is always eager to lob in a few inconvenient questions, and the topics of many of the events organised by banks, industry groups and corporate giants.

However, he then pulls his punch line, which I read as his take on how successful the gathering is likely to be:

It is gloomy business, albeit discussed while scoffing haute cuisine breakfasts, lunches and dinners in Davos' five-star hotels.

This is basically a variation on Colin Quinn’s joke about Davos:  Economic theory may be about mathematical models that analyze quantitative metrics, such as growth;  but such models say nothing about either the nature of quality-of-life or how that factor varies around the world.  It is a reminder that the most hypocritical thing Bill Clinton ever said had nothing to do with sexual indiscretions;  it was:

I feel your pain.

Bill Clinton will never feel the pain of a Haitian who, years after the hurricane disaster, still does not have a decent place to reside, let alone a viable way to earn a living.

The Occupy movement has been right to identify the enormous gulf between the 1% with wealth and everyone else.  However, there is a corollary gap that may be more important, which is that the 99% still do not have a voice in identifying issues in need of innovative policy thinking, let alone offering suggestions as to what those innovations should be.  In other words economic policy is a product of an echo chamber even more insidious than that of Washington political reporting.  All the parties involved in the conversation know exactly what will be said before it is uttered.  No productive thinking can come of this, and the only result will be that the gap separating the 99% will get even wider.

Until Klaus Schwab has the courage to go into the backyards of economic distress, his World Economic Forum will be a waste of time that only benefits those posh Davos hotels.

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