Davos – Solution or part of the problem?

27th January 2012

An alternative interpretation is that it is just a huge junket, full of self-serving, self-seeking or self-promoting special interest groups. Far from finding a solution to the world's economic problems, the Forum is simply an expensive haven for those political, industrial and financial leaders that created the problems in the first place. Certainly, if previous forums have found the solution to the world's economic problems, the participants have kept it very quiet.

Lance Knobel, a Davos veteran suggests a number of problems with the current Davos format. First is that the people at its beating heart are not necessarily the best people to drive its agenda forward: "The problem is that, for all the good intentions, and plenty of good actions, an organization that is at heart a grouping of the world's largest corporations isn't necessarily in the best position to improve the state of the world, particularly in an era of the Arab Spring and Occupy." This is a recurrent theme in coverage of Davos. Politicians can do all the posturing they like, but the real action is being shaped ‘in the streets of Cairo or protest camps of Wall Street'.

Knobel continues: "The dark, dirty secret you learn when you run the program at Davos is that the vast majority of CEOs have nothing to say. That doesn't mean they are bad CEOs. It's just that there is no correlation between being a successful business leader and having interesting ideas and the ability to express them."

Knobel admits that the forum does its best to mitigate the focus on business leaders, ‘inviting a decent share of civil society leaders and trade unionists'. But, he maintains, the non-corporate leaders in Davos are on the fringe, not at the centre of action.

CNN has also debated whether Davos is part of the solution, or – with its vested interest groups and posturing leaders – it is actually part of the problem: "Davos's image problem is easy to quantify: It offers a haven for the capitalist world's elite at a time when social media has galvanized popular movements calling for greater democracy and a major rethink of the financial systems behind the global financial crisis."

David Roth, president of JungsozialistInnen Schweiz (Swiss Young Socialists), is quoted as saying: "It is a meeting for those who have created the crisis and they always have the same claims that, after being one of the reasons for the crisis, they think they are the solution to the crisis. We never get out of this because the same non-democratic people are making the decisions."

This is a recurrent theme – a disconnected elite making decisions for a discontented populace.

Time Magazine points out that there are genuine problems with this approach: "There are dangers whenever elite policymakers gather in lofty places to contemplate the future. Whether they are heads of state, central bankers, corporate chief executives, the G20 or the shadowy Bilderberg group, big thinkers are inexorably drawn to the Big Picture. And all too often that favors highly centralized solutions to problems and overly abstract debates – whether management structures should be vertical or horizontal, for example."

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