Ever been to Davos? I haven’t, but I hear it’s a lovely Swiss town, with many chalets and all the other fine things that we associate with the Alps. Davos also happens to host an annual event, the World Economic Forum, that attracts heads of state and about 2500 international business executives and bankers of the Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt level. This year’s event carries the theme of “The New Global Context,” meant to convey major international political and economic changes that may threaten the unending pursuit of greater wealth. As one publication aptly headlined, “Davos, Annual Conference for the 1%.”
Contrast that conference with the global reality of income inequality just reported by Oxfam. Oxfam found, to no one’s surprise, that the rich are getting richer and everyone else is treading water. The 1 percent now owns around half (48 percent) of global wealth—not just income, but wealth (stocks, bonds, and other investments); 99 percent of the world’s people have the other 52 percent, which is shrinking (see below). The 1 percenters’ share has been increasing every year since 2009, in keeping with the dictum that wealth begets more wealth, just as poverty leads to more poverty. Whatever benefits trickle down from globalization therefore go into the coffers of the rich, starting with “85 billionaires [who] have the same wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.”
Thus, the Davos forum’s actual purpose is clear: an opportunity for the super rich to figure out, between glasses of pinot noir, how they can escape the most dangerous traps—high-tax countries, terrorism, falling oil prices, nationalization of property, anti-globalization movements, new diseases, another Greece or Ukraine—and not only keep and grow their own assets but preserve and extend the global capitalist system itself. After all, as the New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz writes, many of the folks at Davos are “reeling with disappointment” to learn that they only control half the world’s wealth. No wonder the Oxfam study is entitled Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More. Borowitz has one of the super rich saying: “Getting that other half is not going to be a walk in the park. But ten years from now, when Oxfam says that the top one per cent owns everything in the world, it’ll all have been worth it” (www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/richest-one-per-cent-disappointed-possess-half-worlds-wealth). We can all appreciate what a challenge these folks face, and wish them well.
(For those interested, the Oxfam study is at www.oxfam.org/en/research/wealth-having-it-all-and-wanting-more. The trend line shows that the top 1 percent is on course to control more than 50 percent of global wealth by 2017. The data are from Credit Suisse, by the way.)
And here’s another facet of the Davos tragicomedy:
A squadron of 1,700 private jets are rumbling into Davos, Switzerland, this week to discuss global warming and other issues as the annual World Economic Forum gets underway.
The influx of private jets is so great, the Swiss Armed Forces has been forced to open up a military air base for the first time ever to absorb all the super rich flying their private jets into the event, reports Newsweek (www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/01/20/1700-private-jets-fly-to-davos-to-discuss-global-warming/).