The world’s powerful and ambitious meet in Switzerland this month to advance common interests.
In some instances, those interests might encompass the hopes of an electorate; in others, they might extend to shareholders or, occasionally, the demands of a society with a certain kind of administration.
However, in a world where resources are ever-more concentrated, it is difficult not to see the World Economic Forum, at Davos, as an annual victory party for the rawest kind of capitalism. The event might be fairly described as The Oscars for The Market.
That is why Oxfam tries to set a context, and a challenge, by publishing an annual report on how the rich get richer, just as Davos delegates eye each other at at pre-conference cocktail parties.
Last year, Oxfam recorded that 26 people then owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the global population. That figure was 43 in 2017, showing how quickly and resolutely resources are being concentrated. It may be tightened further this year.
Those findings, consistent over a number of years now, echo a House of Commons report that warns that the world’s richest 1% are likely to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by the end of this decade. This, like climate change, hardly augurs well and must make social instability a real prospect.
Those may be the grand headlines, but there are myriad everyday examples.
Just last week, Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, sacked amid the worst crisis in the company’s history, was given a golden handshake worth more than $60m. Though unexceptional at that high-octane strata, his package begs an obvious question — what kind of a package might he have secured had he been successful?
At the other end of the spectrum, the French unions that have protested for more than a month over pension “reforms” can record a modest victory.
Prime minister Edouard Philippe withdrew a proposal that would raise the pension age from 62 to 64. In Ireland, the qualifying age for a state pension rises to 67 next year and to 68 in 2028.
That this “reform” was imposed without any real protest is another confirmation that the Irish trade union movement and its political arm, the Labour party, are irrelevant outside the public sector, where those changes will have little or no impact.
These issues, and many more, including an escalating, worldwide housing crisis, point to a political reluctance to confront or even constrain the credo in play.
That seems more than unwise, especially as today’s world offers frightening examples of what happens when obvious warnings are ignored.
Climate change will exacerbate poverty and drive accelerated migration. It is impossible, too, to argue that our tax policies, so beneficial to our economy, do not play a small part in this Davos-isation of our world.
An election looms and the attention given to these issues will say a lot about us and our principles.
The next Dáil can do little enough about the world’s Muilenburgs, but there is an awful lot to do to make this a more equal society and ensure that everyone gets even a small slice of the cake, rather than just an occasional crumb from a very well-stocked table.