- Matthew Bishop is the U.S. business editor of The Economist and co-author, along with Michael Green, of "Road from Ruin – How to Revive Capitalism and put America Back on Top", published by Crown Business, Jan. 2010. The opinions expressed are their own. -
Who runs the world? Conspiracy theorists have long believed that the secretive annual gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Swiss ski resort of Davos makes the real decisions in our globalized economy. If only it did.
A few years ago Davos was the focus of anti-globalization anger. Protestors tried to storm this secretive citadel of capitalist power, they even set up their own rival World Social Forum to be, as they saw it, a legitimate alternative to the WEF. That challenge failed in part because the World Social Forum has, frankly, been a bit of a joke. The WEF itself has also changed. Social activists of all kinds now participate in the meetings, journalists have plenty of access, and the proceedings are now broadcast to the world via Youtube.
As a result, as the WEF gathers to ponder its plans for a ‘global redesign’ it will do so transparently and with a broad range of stakeholders, not just heads of state and captains of industry. Discussions can break free from the painful protocols of official summits where the need for unanimity drags the debate down to the lowest common denominator. The WEF is uniquely placed to cut through the bluster and set an agenda for change. It needs to take that opportunity.
When we looked back at economic crises of past as part of the research for our new book The Road from Ruin, it was striking how often the great powers had gathered at summits to try to sort out the mess. Sadly, like at Paris in 1878 and London in 1933, there was a failure of imagination and the conferences ended in failure. This year more than ever, the WEF needs to use its freedom from tiresome diplomatic protocols to seize the opportunity in the crisis and to set an agenda for change. New thinking is needed.