Davos: Scene of Bribery, Bullying and Co-option – Terry Bell (2015)


by Terry Bell
The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) extravaganza got underway last week as
700 private jets whizzed into the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos. This is a gathering
where the heads of immensely rich corporations wine, dine, bribe and bully various
power brokers and wannabe tycoons to do their bidding and to adopt policies that suit
the corporate world.
Because, far from being the United Nations-style interdisciplinary institution it is
often portrayed as being, the WEF is, in fact, a private club whose members comprise
the chief executives of 1 000 of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful
corporations. Their annual Davos talkshop is now an horrendously expensive and
lavish opportunity where anybody who thinks they are anybody, has to be seen.
It provides an opportunity for pop stars and fading movie icons to parade their hearts
on their sleeves as they tuck into caviar or R400 hamburgers to discuss issues such as
alleviating global poverty. But there is no denying that it is a very professional and
successful public relations exercise.
It should be remembered, for example, that at the 1993 WEF gathering Nelson
Mandela was persuaded to dump the redistributive policies drawn up over several
years by the ANC’s Macro-Economic Research Group, headed by the late Vella
Pillay. This led to the formal adoption in 1996 of the business friendly, “trickle
down” approach of the Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) programme,
pinpointed by the unions as a major reason for our current social and economic woes.
It is for all these reasons that the South African labour movement was not represented
at Davos this week. However, at taxpayers’ expense, President Jacob Zuma and
clutch of ministers and officials were there. As indeed are invited media
representatives, some of them professed acolytes of the WEF, who may rub
shoulders, as apparent equals, with presidents, monarchs, politicians and some of the
most powerful people on earth.
Their hosts are the representatives of the 1% of the global population that last week’s
Oxfam report notes will, by next year, own and control 50% of the entire wealth of a
world of increasing inequality. As Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven says: “This
is a business elite who are more powerful than the political elite.”
And, according to Federation of Unions (Fedusa) general secretary, Dennis George, it
is “a talkshop with no real follow-up”. However, the unions generally concede that
there may be a few crumbs from the tables of the uber-rich, often in the form of taxdeductible
donations to one or other good cause.
This is not to denigrate those international labour, religious and human rights
representatives who went — again — to Davos to plead for real change and for a
better world. Says British TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady: “If Davos is a
closed shop for the wealthy and powerful elites who caused today’s global inequality,
it won’t come up with the answers needed for a more fair and prosperous future…we
need the business leaders attending to commit to…investing in decent jobs instead of
the casino capitalism that caused the crash.”
But the small union delegation at Davos should perhaps have been reminded of a
statement attributed to the British reformist economist, John Maynard Keynes:
“There exists the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men
somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds”.
The super rich members of the WEF club may not be nasty at a personal level, but
their positions and the corporate dynamic puts their profit-driven interests above
those of humanity. And the members are desperately worried. WEF founder and
CEO, Klaus Schwab, noted last week that “the world is at a crossroads”.
He pointed out that in one direction lay disintegration and terror, in the other, cooperation
and stability. This is, in much the same words, what the trade unions have
been saying for years and what Karl Marx or Rosa Luxemburg warned about a
century and more ago.
But, as the labour movement continues to point out, it is the likes of the WEF club
that has created the crossroads — and driven the world to the critical situation we all
now find ourselves in. Says Craven: “These are representatives of a system in which
inequality is entrenched.”
January 25, 2015
Terry Bell
writing, editing, broadcasting
specialising in:
political/economic analysis and labour
P.O Box 373, Muizenberg 7950
South Africa
Tel: +27 +(0)21 788 9699
Skype: belnews • Twitter: @telbelsa
Blog: terrybellwrites.com