Are you better off than you were twenty years ago? Probably not relative to very rich people today, but what about relative to you, or to someone your age and position twenty years ago? Income inequality has been called the defining issue of our time. Powerful leaders, from President Obama to Pope Francis, have cited it as evidence that the unfettered capitalism that has enriched the wealthy hasn’t been shared. Of course, there’s a difference between the gains in income being shared evenly, shared a little, or making everyone else poorer. In many ways the average American is much better off than he used to be; in other ways he’s worse off. But even if we focus on what’s gotten better, we may still need to worry about the future.
One sometimes hears that the World Economic Forum is all talk and no action. I don’t buy it — talk matters. Social currency is a powerful driver of change, even at the highest reaches of business and government. And last week climate change was on center stage at the famous Davos summit. So as I moved through the WEF Annual Meeting, the question on my mind was simple: How many of the conversations here will lead to real-world outcomes?
“The impatience for growth will really take patience” — that’s Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan in a panel on low economic growth, using the particular kind of language particular to the people who inhabit particular places like Davos. A panel called “No Growth, Easy Money — The New Normal?” (those latter three words another terrible Davos phrase) began with the moderator grimly telling the crowd: “Will we ever return to the normal, free world?” This kind of sentence is ostensibly the kind of English you and I subscribe to, but on further examination, not so much.
With 1,500 business leaders and up to 50 government officials in town for the World Economic Forum it shouldn’t be a surprise that advertising messages in Davos are aimed at a different demographic than one would expect in even the most upscale of ski resorts.
In its video presentation “Looking to 2060: A Global Vision of Long-term Growth,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that China will soon surpass the United States to become the world’s largest economy, and will account for 28 percent of global gross domestic product by 2030. The OECD also predicts that by 2060 the combined GDP of China and India will overtake that of the OECD economies. Meanwhile, Bain estimates that by 2020 emerging economies will account for two-thirds of global economic growth.
Improving the health of employees worldwide is vital to our global economic strength and growth. In the U.S. alone, the economic cost of chronic diseases is estimated at $1.3 trillion annually. The World Economic Forum’s Workplace Wellness Alliance was launched in 2010, and it has spent the years since driving home the critical importance of investing in workplace wellness.
If policymakers and financial markets outside the Swiss alps are concerned about China’s economic outlook, those worries were missing from a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos. While delegates to the meeting of the rich and powerful surfaced a host of challenges facing China’s new leadership later this year, the pace of growth wasn’t one of them.
It’s the time of year when everywhere I turn, I read tweets and posts about Davos, which was a huge part of my life for 10 years. I’m a long way from the mountaintop these days, but I find that too many people don’t understand some basic truths about the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum.
This year in Davos, there is a lot of talk about transformations and new business models that will be important in our global economic recovery. In healthcare, new models will be a significant part of expanding access to patients in need. While it is clear there is lots of growth potential in emerging markets, it’s also important to address the larger societal challenges associated with this growth. This is especially true in the developing world where access and affordability are major issues.
It was well past midnight in late January 2000 when an investment banking contact called my Davos hotel room to share the latest details on Vodafone’s hostile bid for Mannesmann. That was news, but the huge hostile takeover was no longer the largest deal in history. It had been displaced a few weeks earlier by the agreed merger of AOL and Time Warner. Such was the talk of the World Economic Forum. The great and the powerful had gathered together to celebrate the success of business and, especially, of finance.