The World Economic Forum: Does it really matter?

IN the 1949 film adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Third Man, Harry Lime points out that 500 years of peace, brotherly love and democracy in Switzerland had produced nothing more exciting than the cuckoo clock. We can now, though, add the World Economic Forum — held annually since 1977 in Davos — to Switzerland’s list of questionable achievements, although it’s fair to concede that it was created by a German.

Originally conceived as an assembly at which European and American business folks could exchange ideas for improving management techniques, it’s morphed into an invitation-only gathering of the great, the good and not-so-good in politics, business and education. 

Critics see presidents and prime ministers schmoozing and showboating with the likes Goldman Sachs and KPMG and, with some justification, smell a rat—a conspiracy of elites to rule, or ruin, the world. The WEF, of course, had a significant role in forecasting and averting the 2008/9 financial crash!

Each convocation has a theme: Last year’s was “Responsive and Responsible Leadership”; this time it’s been “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” The forum’s nostrums will doubtless be of enormous interest to people trying to keep heads above water in the parts of Europe and US that are fractured and where an anti-elitist zeitgeist has spawned the growth of populist politics about which Davos folks wring their hands.

Here’s an idea: Let’s have a year without Davos, and see what difference it makes to a fractured world.

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