Influential business leaders and lawmakers once again descend on the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos next week against a backdrop of rising populism, and early indications suggest they will at least acknowledge the dramatic political shifts of the last twelve months.
Election wins for Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, as well as the U.K.'s vote to leave the EU, were widely seen as a rejection of current socio-economic models. Populism became a key story of 2016 and will be front and center in Davos ahead of elections this year in France, Germany, the Netherlands and most likely Italy.
In a nod to this current mood, this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) is titled "Responsive and Responsible Leadership" and its official agenda describes a "weakening of multiple systems" that has eroded confidence and speaks of a possible "downward spiral" fuelled by protectionism, populism and nativism.
Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president on January 20 will overshadow the event but it's hard to see how every conference, bilateral meeting or roundtable in Davos won't include some reference to this political upheaval, which the conservative news aggregation site The Drudge Report calls the "new, new world order".
Indeed, some critics have attacked the event itself as being a reason why U.S. citizens started to question globalization and contemplate the negative impacts it's had on some parts of Western nations.
"(People) have witnessed the rise of the Davos class, a hyper-connected network of banking and tech billionaires, elected leaders who are awfully cosy with those interests (neoliberal policies), and Hollywood celebrities who make the whole thing seem unbearably glamorous," Naomi Klein, an author and social activist said in an opinion piece for The Guardian newspaper just a day after Trump's victory in November.
She claimed that neoliberalism has nothing to offer for the pain of growing debts and people's feelings of powerlessness. "Neoliberalism unleashed the Davos class. People such as Hillary and Bill Clinton are the toast of the Davos party. In truth, they threw the party," she later added in the piece.
This anger at the so-called Davos class is nothing new. In a presentation at the Vatican in 2014, Steve Bannon, the incoming chief strategist and senior counselor for the Trump presidency, said the working men and women in the world were "tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos."
WEF officials and attendees will look to counter these perceptions and - in what is one of the crucial aims for this annual shindig - it will look to develop practical and pragmatic solutions. A blog post entitled "Globalization has left people behind. This is what we should do about it" has already been given some major real estate on the front page of the event's website. Written by Diane Coyle, an economics professor at the University of Manchester, the opinion piece considers better infrastructure, education and more devolved power as possible fixes.
More fixes and solutions will develop over the coming days as the Davos debate heats up in the freezing cold mountains of Switzerland. But for some established lawmakers and business executives, any answers will come far too late.
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