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Davos forum opens on global pessimism, rising inequality, and without headliners

A WEF survey this week found the Davos community worried most about climate change among sources of political and economic anxiety
Fabrice COFFRINI (AFP/File)
Climate change also a major concern, in festival that might feel less like a media circus than previous year.

Some 3,000 business and thought leaders were assembling in the exclusive alpine town of Davos on Monday morning, as the yearly edition of the World Economic Forum was set to start.

The event, which starts Tuesday and lasts for four days, is known as a forum for the global elite to discuss and comment on world affairs with the aim, simply, of 'improving the state of the world'.

It has attracted much criticism, mostly from political activists who see it as a networking event for the wealthy. Steve Hilton, a political insider and writer, ironically called it an "annual schmooze fest where rich white men debate inequality and diversity" in an opinion piece for the Guardian.

Several reports were released ahead of the 2019 edition, entitled 'Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.'

Fabrice COFFRINI (AFP/Archives)

They collectively paint a bleak picture of a more pessimistic world, with little prospects for improvement.

The Edelman Trust Barometer for 2018, published on January 20th, showed that only 20% of people thought the current global system worked to improve their lives.

Polling more than 33,000 people in 27 different countries, the Barometer reported that news engagement had generally soared, and that more than two thirds of the population reportedly felt a profound sense of injustice, and a desire for change.

This seems to corroborate a report by Oxfam, published on Sunday, which shows that wealth inequality has soared massively in 2018.

There was the largest increase in billionaires in history, with one more dollar billionaire every two days - 90% of them men.

The top 1% of us had the lion's share of world growth, with 82% going to the most privileged percentile. The poorest half did not see any of the increase. This means that, as of today, the 26 richest people own more of the world's wealth than the poorest half - more than 3.7 billion people.

Kun TIAN (AFP)

Rising inequality was also a concern among forum attendees, of which 1,000 were polled beforehand for their concerns. They attributed rising inequality levels to a transfer of public to private wealth over the past 40 years.

And this weakening of the public/private partnership has already started taking its toll.

Some previous star guests of the forum were going to miss this year's gathering in Davos - including Donald Trump, who was the first US president in 18 years to attend last year's edition.

A Swiss getaway would have been politically obscene after the longest-running government shutdown in history has put close to a million public employees out of work.

Theresa May stays back to deal with a Brexit in shambles, and Emmanuel Macron to attempt and defuse a Gilets Jaunes crisis, which many see as a direct consequence of rising levels of inequality.

Xi Jinping and Modi will also give this one a miss, and even though Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Zimbabwe president Emmerson Mnangagwa were still on the list of participants, they both cancelled, probably over more pressing political concerns at home.

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