WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM: Makers and Shakers of the Post-Crisis World

  • by Gustavo Capdevila (geneva)
  • Inter Press Service

Clues to their behaviour will begin to be revealed from Wednesday, as the annual session of the World Economic Forum (WEF), a think-tank for the élite that looks to the interests of transnational companies and is regularly attended by executives, experts and government officials from rich countries, kicks off at the winter resort of Davos in Switzerland.

At first sight it would appear that nothing has changed, as the WEF founder and chairman Klaus Schwab has already forthrightly announced that the first goal of this Davos Forum will be 'to assist the G20 process'.

Schwab was referring to the group of more than 20 large and emerging economies which began examining ways of reforming the world's financial architecture and policies to revitalise the global economy in Washington in November 2008. Leaders of the G20 are due to meet again on Apr. 2 in London.

Even more unambiguously, Schwab said 'what we want is to allow business leaders and 'stakeholders' such as trade unionists and non-governmental organisations to contribute to the G20's goals.'

This is sheer arrogance, Swiss academic Jean Ziegler told IPS.

It demonstrates that the Davos Forum will once again 'be simply an exercise in cynicism, arrogance and blindness,' Ziegler said in an interview with IPS between sessions of the consultative committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council, meeting this week in Geneva.

Some 2,500 people are expected to attend the Davos Forum, over half of them representatives of the business community, but also members of governments, politicians, trade unionists, religious leaders and members of non-governmental organisations.

As happens every year, press accreditation is largely confined to journalists representing media that are in sympathy with the liberal (free market) ideology of the WEF.

The organisers of the Davos Forum have underscored the secrecy surrounding some sessions by prohibiting writers of press releases, who attend the closed meetings, from having any personal contact with journalists.

Schwab has recently been at pains to deny the idea that the WEF has an ideology, saying that the Davos Forum does not express opinions, it just provides a platform.

Neither did he accept that the Davos Forum has embraced certain economic dogmas, such as complete rejection of state intervention and regulations. It was individual participants at the meetings who promoted these ideas, he said.

Some programmes developed by the WEF have always called for a coordinated system of global regulation, he said.

At a press conference, Schwab expressed the view that 'a reform of capitalism' is necessary. He said there was a need to return to certain values that had been lost in the past 10 years because of too much greed and too little regulation.

The WEF chairman acknowledged that after 39 annual meetings of the Davos Forum, this year's session will be one of the most challenging and significant. Titled 'Shaping the Post-Crisis World,' the central topic for debate is what kind of world the forum wants to see emerging when the crisis is over, and how to design it.

Ziegler criticised the conspicuous spending by WEF participants. For example, the delegates of UBS (United Bank of Switzerland) are staying in luxury hotels in Davos.

UBS was one of the financial institutions hardest hit by the crisis, so much so that the Swiss government had to bail it out to the tune of 64 billion Swiss francs (56.3 million dollars) to save it from bankruptcy.

'The Swiss taxpayer is paying for these luxuries. It's disgusting,' Ziegler told IPS.

'Half the bankers and industrialists at Davos should have been sent to prison a long time ago,' he said. 'All these years, the Davos Forum has provided the ideological basis for plundering the world.'

Twenty years ago, the Davos Forum was celebrating deregulation, headlong liberalisation of the markets, privatisations and the heyday of profit, Ziegler said.

Former president of the World Bank James Wolfensohn coined the phrase: 'The end of history is a world government without a state,' which was roundly applauded by participants at the WEF, Ziegler said.

Their unrestrained neoliberal ideology has landed the world in its worst economic crisis since 1929, and those responsible are the very same people who are here at Davos squandering money, he concluded.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service