Yesterday saw the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Timely issues like the war and Covid will be discussed, alongside perennial threats such as climate change and cybersecurity.
Needless to say, Ukraine will be at the top of the list for discussion topics this year, as it should be, and Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy gave a virtual address to those present earlier today. But other topics are on the agenda as well: the post-pandemic recovery, tackling climate change, the future of work, accelerating stakeholder capitalism and harnessing new technologies. I would suggest they turn their attention more toward the worldwide wealth/poverty crisis. A few facts for your perusal …
- The fortunes of food and energy billionaires have grown by $453 billion over the past two years owing to soaring energy and commodity prices during the pandemic and Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine
- Spiraling global food prices helped create “62 new food billionaires” in just 24 months.
- Cargill, which is one of the world’s largest food traders, now counts 12 family members as billionaires, up from eight before the pandemic. The Cargill family, along with three other companies, controls 70% of the global agricultural market.
- Food prices, which are up more than 30% over the past year on average, are likely to push more than 263 million more people into acute poverty than before the pandemic. That would take the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day to 860 million by the end of the year. That is equivalent to the populations of the UK, France, Germany, and Spain combined.
- Billionaires’ combined wealth stands at $12.7 trillion, according to Forbes magazine’s ranking on the super-rich. That is the equivalent to 13.9% of global GDP, and a threefold increase from 2000. The fortunes of the richest 20 billionaires are greater than the entire GDP of sub-Saharan Africa.
The stated purpose of the World Economic Forum is “… to bring together decision-makers from across society to work on projects and initiatives that make a real difference. Through collaboration between stakeholders with varied perspectives, our projects deliver concrete and sustainable results and make a positive impact at all levels of society.”
While I do not doubt that some of those leaders and decision makers are in Davos with the best of intentions, I very much doubt that any real help will come to those who are struggling for their very survival. Why? In part because even the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, has come to realize that the world he once believed could exist with cooperation among nations, simply isn’t happening. Says political scientist Ian Bremmer …
“I think this will be the first World Economic Forum where Klaus himself does not believe that it is a Western-led world and that the rest of the countries are just going to align toward it. I think he gets it.”
Yet another part of the reason for my skepticism is the atmosphere that surrounds the event in Davos. It seems to be a haven for the wealthy, days of sipping champagne and, as Mr. Bremmer says …
“… five days of making as much money as they can because they’re masters of the universe and they’re seeing other masters of the universe and they’re meeting every 30 minutes and getting deals done.”
As I sat writing notes for this post at about 2:00 this morning, munching on a few tortilla crisps, sipping a cup of fresh-brewed coffee, I realized just how lucky I am … and everyone reading this blog is … that while we may groan and moan about rising prices, we can still afford to keep a roof over our heads, the lights on, and food on the table. Millions, if not billions of people around the globe are not able to do that.
Nellie Kumambala, a primary schoolteacher who lives in Lumbadzi, Malawi, with her husband, two children and her mother, said:
“Prices have risen so much, even since last month. Two litres of cooking oil, last month was 2,600 kwacha, now it is 7,500. Imagine. Yesterday I went to the shop to buy cooking oil, but I failed, I did not have the money. Every day I worry about how I will feed the household, thinking to myself, ‘What should I do today so we can eat?’”
Here in the U.S., gasoline prices are high and food prices are on the rise. At least half of the people in this nation blame President Biden, for they have been told by their mentors on Fox ‘News’ that anything and everything that goes wrong must be Biden’s fault and they are too lazy or too uneducated to seek real answers. But the reality is that fuel and food prices are high, not because of anything President Biden has or hasn’t done, but because the wealthy bastards who run the oil and food companies saw an opportunity to stick it to we the consumers, and they grabbed that golden ring, increasing their own profits astronomically while hurting the other 99% of us, particularly the lower economic families.
The development charity Oxfam called on world leaders meeting at Davos to immediately introduce wealth taxes on the super-rich to help tackle “the biggest increase in extreme poverty in over 20 years”. While I fully agree … I think the wealthy should be taxed to the nines, be made to pay back for all the years they have gotten by with murder, paying no taxes while others starved to death … I am enough of a realist to know that it won’t happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not next year, and probably not in 20 years, if the human species survives that long. So, while I think the premise behind the World Economic Forum is a good one, I also think it’s pie-in-the-sky, unachievable, for the wealthy are greedy, arrogant creatures who would happily sip their champagne while the world burns around them.