At this time of year, about 2,000 private jets fly into Zurich airport and to various smaller Swiss airports (including the Dübendorf military airbase). Hundreds of helicopter flights move from Zurich to Davos, where the hotel rooms go for as high as US$10,000 a night during the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF, which began in 1971, opened this Tuesday and runs through to the end of the week. The theme is Globalization 4.0, which refers—it seems—to the need to tackle the high-tech economy and to create a new architecture for a crumbling world system.
Evidence of the irrelevance of Davos and of that crumbling system is clear. Neither the U.S. President Donald Trump nor the Chinese President Xi Jinping will be there. With the European Union falling apart, neither British Prime Minister Theresa May nor French President Emmanuel Macron will be flying in. Germany’s Angela Merkel will be stuck with strongmen such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. It will not be pleasant company.
The World Economic Forum slips into liberal language, reflecting concern for the deep disparities in the world and the crises of war and climate change. It is impossible to ignore fully the calamities in our world. They have to make a show of taking these things seriously.
Only 26 individuals have as much wealth as 3.8 billion people. Let that sink in.
There are currently 2,208 billionaires in the world, twice the number since the global financial crisis of 2007-08. Most of them are from North America and Europe. They currently have more wealth than ever before, according to a new report from Oxfam International. The combined wealth of the richest 26 among these 2,208 billionaires reached US$1.4 trillion. This amount of wealth is equivalent to the total wealth of the planet’s 3.8 billion poorest people. That means that only 26 individuals have as much wealth as 3.8 billion people. Let that sink in.
Who are these 26 men and women? The top ten of them are Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), Bernard Arnault (LVMH), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Amancio Ortega (Zara), Carlos Slim Helu (America Movil), the Koch Brothers (Koch Industries) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). On this list, only one person—Carlos Slim Helu—is neither European nor North American. He is Mexican. Further down the list is one Indian (Mukesh Ambani) and several Chinese billionaires (Ma Huateng, Jack Ma, Li Ka-shing, Hui Ka Yan, Lee Shau-kee and Wang Jianlin).
“Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of women in working-class and middle-class households do millions of hours of unpaid labor to maintain a system that has cut social safety nets and social welfare.”
It is not that these men—and a few women—work so hard that they earn their wealth. Most of them inherited their wealth; others were able to get their hands on public assets at fire-sale prices during the time of privatization. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of women in working-class and middle-class households do millions of hours of unpaid labor to maintain a system that has cut social safety nets and social welfare. The Oxfam report has a startling piece of data. “If all the unpaid care work done by women across the globe was carried out by a single company, it would have an annual income of $10 trillion—43 times that of Apple.” And yet, it is people who own Apple and its kindred firms who make the billions while these women earn nothing. This is the actual structural crisis that will not be discussed at Davos. It goes against the interests of the billionaires to open this conversation.