Meanwhile at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, the business, financial and political elites who have helped create the mess we’re in, sipped expensive champagne, networked, and gave us lectures on what we need to be doing to sort things out.
The World Economic Forum says it is ’ committed to improving the state of the world’. But in fact the world was in a far better state before the WEF (originally called the European Management Forum), was established in 1971.
For the majority of people of the planet, but not for the super, super rich, things have gone backwards since the first Davos meeting was held. That’s no coincidence as Davos – for all the ’progressive’ waffle about ‘stakeholder theory’ and the ’global public interest’ – is all about maintaining an elite-friendly, neoliberal economic order which has caused so much economic, social, cultural and environmental damage.
Holding court at Davos this year, as in other years, was the octogenarian hedge fund billionaire George Soros, the 16th richest man in the world according to Forbes, with a net worth of $24.5bn.
Soros usually bashes Russia at Davos, and this year was no exception. He accused Vladimir Putin of making the refugee crisis worse by bombing Syria, saying that the Russian President wanted the EU to “collapse”. Never mind the funding and arming of so-called ‘rebels’ in Syria by the West and its regional allies – let’s blame Putin!
The fact is that Russia’s intervention in Syria has blocked the regime-change plans of the Western elite, which is exactly why the likes of George Soros are so angry.
Soros wasn’t the only George talking twaddle in the Swiss Alps.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne addressed ‘British business leaders’ at the CBI’s lunch, where he hailed the economic achievements of the UK government, and called the UK economy “a chink of light cutting through the global gloom.” Of course Osborne failed to mention the fact that as Chancellor he presided over the longest drop in real wages for over 50 years.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made headlines when he told the BBC at Davos the quite stunning news that the refugee crisis was destabilizing Europe. He did not of course mention France’s role in destabilizing Syria and Libya – and that this destabilization (together with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003) was the major cause of the refugee crisis.
Wherever we look at Davos, we see hypocrisy and double standards.
Oh look, there’s the millionaire rock star Bono, the anti-poverty campaigner whose band U2 moved part of their business from Ireland to the Netherlands in order to pay less tax.
And who’s that giving an interview about the current refugee crisis-triggered by western ‘interventionist’ policies in the Middle East – why it’s the serial interventionist Tony Blair!
And who’s this impartial observer saying that “the best result you might be able to get” in Syria was “benign Balkanization, benign cantonization”. Why it‘s Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu!
Other ‘highlights’ of Davos included Harry Potter actress Emma Watson giving a talk on gender inequality. “Women share this planet 50/50 and they are under-represented, their potential astonishingly untapped,” Watson told a forum where just 18 percent of the attendees were women (up a whopping 1 percent from 2015.).
It’s not just a sexual imbalance you see at Davos, but there’s a distinct preponderance of North Americans and Europeans at an event billed as a WORLD Economic Forum as this diagram demonstrates.
One of the relatively few Africans to get an invitation to the elite get-together in the Swiss Alps, was Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda.
Rwanda has undoubtedly made some progress under Kagame, but it’s come at a cost. The latest Amnesty report tells us: “Freedoms of expression and association in Rwanda continued to be unduly restricted by the authorities. Rwandans were unable to openly express critical views on issues perceived as sensitive by the authorities and the environment for journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition remained repressive.”
I wonder if George Soros had a word with Mr Kagame about his passionate belief in the ‘Open Society’?
You don’t have to be a Che Guevara or Rosa Luxemburg to wish that the ‘World Economic Forum’ and all its hypocrisy, was confined to history.
‘The fact that business and political leaders can, over the space of a couple of days, meet “everyone who matters” is exactly what’s wrong with it and with the world,’ says Steve Hilton, a former director of strategy for David Cameron.
Hilton is right: It’s ludicrous to look to Davos for solutions, as its exclusiveness is an integral part of the problem.
It’s worth reflecting on how well the world was doing before Professor Klaus Schwab had his ‘bright’ idea for a ‘European Management Forum’.
The 1960s was an era of great economic, social and cultural advances for ordinary people across the globe. These advances continued into the 1970s.
The world had never before been so democratic and never before had its wealth been so evenly shared. But starting with the coup which toppled the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, and saw him replaced with the capital-friendly dictator and human rights oppressor Augusto Pinochet, the global economic order was restructured in the interests of a tiny but very greedy elite who were unhappy that their share of the cake had shrunk in the genuinely progressive period following World War Two.
A hallmark of this neoliberal era has been the way states have been captured to serve the interests of international finance capital and giant global corporations. Publicly owned assets have been privatized, providing rich pickings for the banks and financial institutions who handle the sales. Meanwhile, the very rich have enjoyed generous tax cuts – if they even pay tax at all. Meanwhile, austerity is imposed on the majority.
Davos has played a key role in this process. If the World Economic Forum has a habit of coming up with big-business-friendly solutions it’s no surprise, as its members“comprise 1,000 of the world’s top corporations, global enterprises usually with more than US$5 billion in turnover.”
Last week, as the well-heeled attendees arrived in Davos in their private jets, Oxfam released its latest report on global inequality. The report revealed that the richest 1% now own more than the rest of the people in the world combined.
A more shocking indictment of forty-odd years of neoliberalism would be hard to find.
“It is simply unacceptable that the poorest half of the world population owns no more than a small group of the global super-rich – so few, you could fit them all on a single coach,” says Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB’s chief executive.
He might also have said we could fit the small group of the global super-rich in one hotel in Davos, which is where most of them probably were last week.
We won’t get any meaningful change arising from anything proposed at Davos because the iniquitous status quo is in the interest of those who fund the World Economic Forum.
To solve the problems of today we need to do away with elite gatherings attended by ‘everyone who matters’ and re-democratize our politics and our economies. In short, we need to take power away from the billionaires who meet each year at Davos, and return it to the people.
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @neilclark66