I have never taken up the opportunity to attend the Davos meeting and I will pass again this year. That, however, does not mean that I do not follow its evolution and outcomes. I am certainly interested in what could emerge from a meeting that brings together so many leaders of governments, civil society and business.
In an ideal world, this year’s meeting would prove catalytic in two important ways. First, it would trigger greater awareness of ongoing watershed developments in the global economy and draw attention to how differently these are viewed around the world. And second, it would point to ways in which an increasingly “zero-sum” view of international coordination can be reshaped to contribute to collective resilience and inclusive prosperity.
The list of ongoing watershed developments in the global economy is long, extending well beyond the horrific war in Ukraine and the associated human tragedies. Here is an example of what is on such a list:
- Due to the convergence of food, energy, debt and growth crises, a growing number of poorer countries face a rising threat of famine — and this is but one part of the “little fires everywhere” phenomenon undermining lives and livelihoods around the world.
- Inflation at 40-year highs in wealthier countries is undermining standards of living and growth engines, hitting the poor particularly hard, fueling political anger, eroding institutional credibility, and undermining the effectiveness of economic and financial policy.
- The inability to deal with critical secular challenges, including climate change, is seeing short-term distractions compound what already are meaningful long-term challenges.
- Private- and public-sector efforts to strike a better balance between highly interconnected supply chains and national/corporate resilience are complicated by a global economy that lacks sufficient momentum for this to be done in an orderly fashion.
- The western weaponization of international finance, while effective in bringing the eleventh largest economy in the world to its knees, has been pursued without a global framework of standards, guidelines and safeguards.
I suspect that, while the vast majority of Davos participants will agree on this list (and, indeed, add a few more items), there will be quite a bit of disagreement on the causes and longer-term consequences. Such disagreement is problematic in two ways. First, it undermines the shared responsibility needed to address challenges with important international dimensions; and second, it erodes even more trust in the existing international order. Unless the disagreements can be resolved, the damaging effects will deepen and spread.
On paper, the Davos meeting would be perfectly suited for resolving these conflicts. History, however, does not provide much encouragement or optimism.
Time and time again, Davos has fallen victim to a lack of focus and actionable unifying vision. Individual and collective interests have remained unreconciled. Distractions abound. As a result, the output has been, at best, backward-leaning.
Given the multiple crossroads facing the global economy, this would be a particularly good time for Davos to fulfill its considerable potential — to look ahead, not back. To identify solutions instead of just problems. Otherwise, the forum will evolve even more into a network and social club that is, and is widely perceived to be, even more decoupled from the realities of many and the challenges of most.- Bloomberg