Davos

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If the global elites at Davos see inequality as the problem, what’s their solution? | 

Davos, World Economic Forum
World Economic Forum

This week, the advocacy group Oxfam released a report that generated some stunning headlines, mostly around one shocking statistic: “85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world” was typical.

The Oxfam report Working for the Few quoted former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.”

Everyone knows the richest today are fabulously wealthy and even Oxfam accepts that some level of inequality is necessary – and good, as a reward for innovation and initiative. But… Continue reading

Martin Luther King Jr., inequality and Davos | 

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an American national holiday in which we celebrate a man who fought and died for the cause of equality.

It’s a chilling last speech, in that King seems to be foretelling his assassination – which took place the next day. That was April 1968. It’s now 2014 and we’ve still not made it to King’s fabled “mountain top” or “promised land” where everyone is treated the same and everyone has equal opportunity to succeed. That’s not true in the U.S., it’s not true globally and it’s arguably a dream even less likely to come true if current trends persist.

That’s because, in the U.S. and worldwide, inequality is on the rise and has been for quite a while. Continue reading

Did anything that matters (to the rest of us) happen in Davos? | 

Davos, World Economic Forum
World Economic Forum

Somehow, I was not invited to the prestigious and exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos this year.

Many other members of the media were there along with the corporate executives, politicians, celebrities, cautiously happy bankers, an anxious Shimon Peres complaining that the world is becoming ungovernable and some topless Ukrainian women protesters who were there but not invited. Among the missing (besides me) were top officials from the Obama Administration and a strong sense of moral purpose, or much purpose at all. To wit:

The Economist said Pretty Much No One Believes in Davos anymore, adding in a different column this observation:

“Ordinary folk trust Davos Man no more than they would a lobbyist for the Worldwide Federation of Weasels.Continue reading

The history of being the first in history to end poverty | 

Britain's Prime Minister Cameron speaks during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in DavosPoverty persists, as does the tendency over the last century for politicians and others to say that society is finally on the cusp of ending it. British PM David Cameron just said it this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos:

“We can be the generation that eradicates absolute poverty in our world.”

Yes, we can – just like we can also be the generation that ends hunger or AIDS, injustice or maybe even large-scale warfare. Actually doing it, however, is a bit harder than pointing out it is theoretically possible.

Owen Barder, an expert on the fight against poverty at the Center for Global Development, has compiled an historical list of those who have, over the past century, said pretty much the same thing. Starting with Cameron, he works his way backward in time quoting Jeff Sachs, Henry Kissenger, John F. Kennedy all the way to Woodrow Wilson. Funny. Sad. Read it.

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

World Economic Forum

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.

Al Jazeera

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. Continue reading

Bill Gates pushing us to push polio into oblivion | 

UNICEF

Child receiving oral polio vaccine

In case you missed it, Bill Gates thinks we should eradicate polio.

Not just him. You and me, too.

Bill and Melinda Gates have given a lot of money — about $1.3 billion — in support of the global campaign to eradicate polio. But, as Gates has been saying a lot the past week, it’s going to take a truly global effort to succeed:

“If eradication fails because of a lack of generosity on the part of donor countries it would be tragic. We are so close, but we have to finish the last leg of the journey,” says Gates in his annual letter released today.

Continue reading

How (ir)relevant was Davos this year? | 

World Economic Forum

Well, Bill Gates did get some public attention and additional money for the ongoing global campaign to eradicate polio while hanging out with the rich and powerful at the Swiss ski resort.

Among the other issues discussed by members of the global elite who gathered at the World Economic Forum this year, some pondered the connections between wealth and happiness, finance ministers promised to stabilize the euro, a writer for Forbes attending the invite-only affair complained about being excluded from the inner-inner circle and the Economist’s Matthew Bishop’s described playing at being an oppressed refugee. Said Bishop:

“The activity was worthwhile, stimulating serious conversations about how to address a serious problem.”

At first, I read that as “simulating” a serious conversation since Bishop made no mention of perhaps the world’s most serious problem — the turmoil rocking Egypt and much of the Arab world. Continue reading

Bill Gates wants to spread polio (awareness) at Davos | 

World Economic Forum

Chums at Davos (the guy next to Bono is former Nigeria Prez Olusegun Obasanjo)

The big hoo-hah has begun surrounding the gathering of the rich, famous and powerful at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The story of Davos, like the story of the elephant and the blind men, tends to depend on what angle you bring to this gathering and what you’re hoping to see come out of it.

A quick Google News search suggests this year’s meeting is mostly about resolving glitches in international finance, banking regulations, bankers bashing the media for “bank bashing,” the state of the economy, the Euro, the dollar and, uh, mostly money (Well, duh. It’s not the World Wrestling Federation).

Politicians come as well to talk about politics. Celebrities come to talk about whatever they want.

Bill Gates, however, wants to make Davos this year a focal point for getting global support to finally complete the nearly completed worldwide campaign to eradicate polio. On Friday, Gates and others are expected to announce new financial commitments for the polio campaign.

In 2008, Gates used the Davos platform to call for “creative capitalism” (and he didn’t mean bundled derivatives). A decade ago, the Gates Foundation announced at the Swiss resort the creation of what continues to be its biggest philanthropic endeavor, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

GAVI’s ten-year effort to greatly expand the use of childhood immunizations worldwide is, arguably, the biggest single thing going in global health. It has prevented more than 5 million deaths since it started (but, like many such initiatives, is now under threat from lack of adequate donor/government support).

Eradicating polio would be a big deal, too. But we’ll see how much attention Gates can bring to the struggling polio campaign amid all the other financially focused glitz and glamor. We have indeed almost succeeded in eradicating this disease but, as they say, the last mile is the hardest.

This annual gathering of the world’s best and brightest does get a lot of media attention, though some would argue it actually appears to accomplish very little — at least for the 99 percent of us who aren’t rich and powerful.

Given that track record, I’d say Gates has done pretty well over the years exploiting this elite confab.