Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, poses during an interview by the Associated Press on the eve of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, poses during an interview by the Associated Press on the eve of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

#WEF2019: This year’s edition of Davos will not dent the world's inequality

By Kabelo Khumalo Time of article published Jan 21, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG – The next big event in World Economic Forum founder Professor Klaus Schwab's life after the conclusion of the latest high profile meeting in Davos would most probably be his birthday on March 30.

The German-born Schwab will be turning 81.

In his lifetime a man landed on the moon, fascism was brought to its knees, a wall fell in Berlin and doors of trade were opened, innovation and technology took off. 

The world has also experienced its fair share of turmoil in Schwab’s lifetime. A devastating World War 2, the 1970s oil crisis, the dotcom bubble and the 2007-2009 global financial crisis. 

I highlight these few instances to show that while the world economy has picked itself up after every period of instability, the poor have remained on the margins in both times of boom and bust. 

Soft landing is just but an illusion to the poor. But we have also seen how with determination business and government can lift millions of people out poverty in times of boom. 

The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s saw an extraordinary number of people lifted out of poverty in China, India and Brazil. But this progress does not redeem the fact that more than 1 billion people across the globe live in extreme poverty, eking out a living on less than $1.25 (R17.25) a day. These are the people whose plight should be on top of the agenda at Davos.

However, the privileged business and political leaders who converge in Davos are a microcosm of the 1 percent of those who control more than 80 percent of global wealth created in 2017. The world is rich, but the vast majority of its inhabitants are poor.

A World Wealth Report 2018 by Capgemini shows that the combined wealth of the world’s millionaires and billionaires hit $70.2 trillion last year, more than double the $32.8trln registered in 2008 – at the height of the global financial meltdown.

So whom has this economy served Mr Schwab?

Its easy to mock Davos – so I will. 

The meeting of people whose dominant agenda is to design a world that benefits them cannot be seen to be progressive. 

WEF meetings and other gatherings of the elite have done little to change the poverty and inequality paradigms in the world.

Davos for all intent and purpose has proved to be a wingding for business people looking to strike deals, politicians looking at cleaning up their global image and TV stars in pursuit of promoting their charities (or themselves).

I am in no way attempting to lay the world’s socio-economic ills at the door of the WEF. 

I am also not questioning the service of Schwab to humanity. The lustre of Davos is that power meets power and profitable alliances are made.

The organisation has earned its stripes by bringing together business, non-governmental organisations and discusses possible solutions that bedevil the world.

But herein lies the criticism of the event – there is more talk and networking than concerted action on the real bread and butter issues.

The era of globalisation has been a period of splendid innovation, and great wealth, but not necessarily of human progress. This year’s edition of Davos will not dent the unsustainable inequality confronting the world.  

It is cold comfort to the poor and marginalised that the rich and powerful meet to trash out how globalisation can ensure a more sustainable global economy.

Davos should graduate to a level where tangible results come from it.  

The mantra of the forum should borrow from the "Abolition of want" premise of the Beveridge report post the ruins of World War 2. 

Available data from the World Bank show almost half of the global population survives on less than $2.50 day. These are more than 3 billion warm bodies whose days resemble an ebbing sense of dignity.

The Unicef data shows that 22 000 children die each day due to poverty. 

This is no life a human being should be subjected to in a caring globalised world. 

The world has gotten a lot richer since World War 2 and the fall of communism in the 1990s, but this wealth has been a finger poking at the eyes of the poor.  

One would assume that a gathering where the fabulously rich and policymakers gather that job creation and abolishing inequality will be decisively dealt with. But no!

Closer to home, Africa’s young population is facing an uncertain future. The 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance distressingly shows that muted progress has been made to nature sustainable economic openings for the continent’s working age population.  

Employment on the continent only inched up 0.2 percent in the last ten years. However, Africa’s economy has grown at an average of around 40 percent during the same decade.

I imagine a day where this annual meeting of thought leaders will not be hosted in the comforts of Davos but in the slums of Brazil, in the distressing streets of Philippi, where poverty penetrates one’s nose violently. 

Then it might dawn on the Davos club and the system they represent who this economy serves, and whom it has condemned to sub-human.

In stark contrast to Ayn Rand's argument in the 1950s, I fear a planet where the downtrodden and working class go on strike to demonstrate how essential their contribution to society is, to not give the world the benefit of their cheap labour and expose the obstacles society has placed in their way.


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