Does Davos matter? In a good way, I mean.

News analysis

The World Economic Forum opened today in Davos, Switzerland.

I wasn’t invited. Neither were you, in all likelihood. Bill Gates always is and will make his standard pitch for assisting the world’s poorest.

For decades, the global political and business elite have gathered at the WEF meeting to discuss, deliberate and declaim on all manner of issues.

Economics can pretty much incorporate any issue it wants, given either the scope of this ‘dismal science‘ or perhaps its increasingly unwieldy definition as to what it is economists actually do. So people here talk about almost anything.

Unless they don’t want to.

Last year, I noted that a significant number of participants and pundits asked if Davos was even relevant anymore.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the spread of the Arab Spring from Tunisia to Egypt. Yet at last year’s hobnob gathering of the upper one percentile, nary a peep was heard about this world-changing popular revolution. Even weirder, WEF was celebrating Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif as one of the world’s top model young leaders.

Some said then that WEF at Davos had become worse than irrelevant given that many of these who come here to talk about finding economic solutions to the global meltdown actually built the fire — and are those who continue to profit from the global inequity they say they want to fix.

One of the most newsworthy (and kind of funny) moments last year was when mega-banker CEO Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase complained about people picking on bankers. The reaction Dimon provoked only provided more evidence, many said, of how clueless are the elite at this meeting.

Since then, the Occupy Movement has emerged like an angry swamp blob, with about as much clarity of purpose say its critics.

But Occupy is now in Davos to greet the elite, a sign of the times. Meanwhile, Desmond Tutu is there also, trying to get people to stop pointing fingers and instead work together to actually solve problems.

The Guardian says Davos does matter and can be relevant, providing a list of “talking points” and “big questions” — while asking the rest of us who weren’t invited what we’d like to see happen.

Michael Elliott, the new commander-in-chief of the ONE Campaign, writes why he thinks Davos matters as does Kate Roberts at Population Services International and Sharon Burrow, on HuffPo, of the International Trade Union Confederation. But then again all of these organizations, maybe all of these people, are among the elite attending at Davos. They would have to think it matters, right?

We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

Below are two articles that appear to be saying Davos is at least at risk of becoming irrelevant. It’s not because many attendees don’t mean well; it’s because of forces beyond the control of even the elite.

Gideon Rachman, writing in Foreign Policy, says we no longer live in a world with win-win options. It’s a bleak treatise, based on Rachman’s book Zero-Sum Future, that says the economic downturn will intensify the scramble for resources and wealth. People will talk about collaboration, he says, but the economic reality is that international competition will get worse.

Ian Bremmer and Steve Clemons, writing in the Atlantic, say much the same thing in their article Davos 2012. The two experts on geopolitical risk (and also members of the WEF) say global cooperation is going to be a tough sell if wealthy Europe can’t even seem to pull off a collaborative project like the Eurozone. “Regionalism” is on the rise, they write, and there’s nothing even close to a new world order:

If the old global order is out, what is the new global order? If both the major security concern and the most significant economic event of the last decade have come and gone, where does that leave us? When the dust settles, where will global leadership and international governance come from?

These critical questions will drive the World Economic Forum debate in Davos this week, mainly because there are no simple answers. In the coming years, where will the world look for global leadership? When it comes to multinational institutions and the geopolitical balance of power, what model works?

It’s worth watching to see if Davos can re-invent itself and be relevant.

Perhaps in the process, the WEF can help the world invent a new approach that will actually serve the economic interests of all of us, reverse the trend of growing global inequity and move us toward a more sustainable economic system that won’t depend upon the by-invitation-only decisions of the elite.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.