Paris is burning, a large chunk of the US federal government is shut down and Britain is careening toward a delay of Article 50 – or possibly a second referendum – as the Brexit process descends into chaos, calls for the World Economic Forum to cancel its annual conference in Davos, a notorious rendezvous for the world’s financial and political elite, are growing louder. Particularly after Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron and now Theresa May have all decided to skip the conference this year to attend to their respective crises.
While these demands from a frustrated public might seem baffling to the global elites who see Davos as an opportunity for less-fortunate emerging economies to “pitch” themselves in an effort to attract more FDI, one former New York Times columnist and the author of a new book that explores the causes of the surge in populism sweeping the Western world offered a surprisingly articulate and trenchant explanation for why people across the west are “mad as hell”, and, furthermore, what role the average Davos attendee played in bringing our society to this point.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Anand Giridharadas placed the blame on plutocrats like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for helping to “break the world” with ruthless corporate agendas that helped monopolize political power in the hands of the elite…leaving the rest of the population with deep-seated feelings of frustration as the usual avenues of social mobility have been closed, and people feel more powerless to change their future.
By building a product that has helped undermine the American Democratic process, Zuckerberg has helped steal the future from the average American, Giridharadas said.
“The story of our time is that the people who have monopolized progress and stolen the future from the people…are the change agents. Mark Zuckerberg, who is one of the great change agents of our time, has compromised American democracy…and has stolen the future…the financial industry…which caused the crisis…has rebranded itself with CSR…and little programs to empower some people here and empower some people here…Amazon another monopoly…”
His hosts interrupted him. Are you advocating anarchy, they asked?
“No”, he replied. “‘m advocating the restoration of Democracy in the US and elsewhere where you actually have leaders who reflect the aspirations of regular people.”
And this can be accomplished, he said, if voters embrace populist policies and stop “believing the BS” propagated by the elites – BS like the notion that Silicon Valley tech firms are working “for the greater good” or that the financial services industry has somehow fundamentally reformed its behavior since the crisis, or that special interests don’t exercise unfettered power over the political system.
“I think it ends when people stop believing the BS. Every age of savage unequal distribution has its own BS…if you watch Downton Abbey, there was a set of feudal beliefs that held the whole society together.”
But…but…but…how can one argue that the world is getting less equal and, ultimately, worse for the everyday person when average life expectancy has been increasing? Well, Giridharadas explains, he’s not arguing that. While global life expectancy has risen, largely because of progress in India and China, in the US, life expectancy rates are actually declining. And Giridharadas’s criticisms primarily focus on what’s happening in Western developed economies, and how people are responding to them.
“The aggregate number is largely because of what’s happening in India and China over the last 40 years…getting past their experiments and getting to some semblance of capitalism…my focus is many of the advanced countries of the west…which have left most of their people feeling that the world is rigged against them…that there is no correlation between the efforts they make the things they study and their ability to live a good life.:.”
“What is the core belief of the US? Social mobility the American dream. That belief is least true in the US among the rich countries.”
Asked if he has a message for the “elites” at Davos, Giridharadas offers a surprisingly stern warning…
“Time is running out for them to get on the right side of history…”
…Before explaining that he believes Davos should be cancelled, adding that it’s “a family reunion of all the people who broke the world…” and that maybe those people should show a little respect for the people they have hurt and the chaos they have caused by foregoing their annual party for one year.
“…First of all I believe that it should be cancelled this year…because the US government is shut down, because of Brexit chaos…because of what’s happening in France…it’s all the more reason to have something different which is the anti-Davos.”
“Davos is a family reunion of the people who broke the world…the world we live in had worked for a narrow slice of people…that didn’t just happen…these were outcomes designed through policy…that engineered a winner-take-all outcome.”
Watch a clip from the segment below: