by Islay May Aitchison, researcher at the TaxPayers' Alliance
This week, the planet’s best and brightest minds are meeting in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. The rest of us are told it’s a critical moment of corporate and governmental collaboration — through panel discussions and informal talks, $52,000-ticket-holders (including Britain’s chancellor, Sajid Javid) will save us from ourselves. In reality, though, they’ll be doing far more harm than good.
From the outside, it’s easy to sneer at inconsequential Davos events, such as “A Conversation with will.i.am.” But really digging into the detail of Davos means acknowledging there will be a decent amount of discussion on significant issues, and big well-meaning solutions will be proposed.
But unlike common sense, free market solution, Davos solutions involve “shareholder capitalism” and ultra-woke economics. In weeks and months and years to come, non-attendees will watch Davos interventionist policies creep into crafted press releases and news reports. We’ll be unable to avoid their effects in our work and consumer behaviour. The decisions will have a real impact on our lives. This week, the few Davos men will make those decisions for the many.
On one level, that almost feels comforting: governments are listening to business and at least somebody is addressing the big issues (climate change, uncertain international financial regulations etc) in our globalised and complicated world. Decisions are being made in a non-competitive environment where leaders are meeting in the room but not sat at the negotiation table.
But actually, agreements by elites in these circumstances don’t tend to benefit regular people. There’s no accountability at Davos, where democratic processes can be conveniently circumvented and fateful discussions happen behind closed doors. Attendees have interests of their own to look out for — they’re politicians or civil servants in inflated governments, or major shareholders in corporate monopolies with fortunes to safeguard.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump addressed Davos attendees and said, “the American dream is back, bigger and better and stronger than ever.” But the crowd, in large part flown in on private jets, wasn’t made up of people that ever lost sight of their ambitions. Rather, his audience was present to fulfil them.
Davos solutions are anti-free market, apparently because the rest of us do not understand and cannot be trusted. But previous Davos policies, like price and income setting and bank bailouts, have since been condemned as bad economics. Clearly, the unsuccessful ends haven't dissuaded our leaders from this shady means of policy-making. Nine times out of ten, Davos solutions hurt the people who have no say in them.
When Sajid Javid returns, he should consider those people, because they make up the vast, vast majority of the country he serves. They will not have spent this week in a Switzerland resort. Yet they are the people who have just given the government the democratic mandate it needed, for tax cuts, a more competitive economy and sensible reform of public services. Next year, he should stay home with them.