Parody-defying World Economic Forum must do better

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It’s that time of the year when the world’s financial and business “elite” gather in an expensive Swiss ski resort to drink champagne and declare that they are terribly worried about global inequality. This parody-defying event is the World Economic Forum in Davos and, to create the correct veneer of earnest contemplation, the organisers publish an assessment of the risks they think the world faces.

This year they have noticed “the growing mood of anti-establishment populism” and judge that reviving economic growth, which has been their cure-all for as long as anyone can remember, may no longer be enough to “remedy fractures in society.” That is why “reforming market capitalism must also be added to the agenda”.

Great, so what’s the big idea? Well, it’s really just a list of objectives. Try number one: “Fostering greater solidarity and long-term thinking in market capitalism.” You can’t beat a bit of fostering of solidarity, of course, but how, precisely, do you think this might achieved? You’ll scan the 70-page document in vain if you’re hoping for details. Chief executive pay – a burning issue not only in the UK – gets a passing reference, but only in the context of noting that it has increased “as firms have become larger”.

It’s easy to sneer, of course. Some people return from Davos claiming to have been stimulated, and not just by the hospitality of the 120 (count ’em) sponsors, mostly multinational companies. But can anyone recall any vaguely memorable – or even heretical – pronouncements from last year’s event? The only lasting impression is of how unfractured is the society of millionaire bosses enjoying each other’s company at shareholders’ expense. Please, one of you, use next week’s forum to point out the absurdity of Davos.

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