May 27, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the World Economic Forum in Davos is still relevant. We also look at CPI(M)’s Muslim convention in Kerala, among other news.
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📰 FEATURE STORY
Is the World Economic Forum still relevant?
While the glamorous movie stars gather in France for the Cannes Film Festival, there’s another gathering at Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF). Here, it’s the business and political leaders that converge to talk economics, climate change, and geopolitics.
As this annual tradition has continued over decades, India has been a prominent participant, sending CEOs and politicians. But does the WEF still have relevance? Has it done what it set out to do? Has it evolved with the changing economic and geopolitical landscape? Or is it a necessary forum to discuss important issues and help showcase emerging economies and countries?
While this year’s Cannes Film Festival discussed the future of cinema, the Davos agenda focused on the recovery from the ongoing global pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and climate change. Before the 2022 edition began, Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, said it was the most timely and consequential meeting in the WEF’s history.
That history goes back to 24 January 1971, when the WEF was founded by Schwab, a German engineer, and economist. The foundation is funded by its 1,000 member companies, a majority of whom have turnovers of more than $5 billion. The WEF’s mission is to improve the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders to shape global and regional agendas.
Every year, the mountain resort town of Davos in Switzerland plays host to around 3,000 paying members and selected participants for five days. The forum believes that a globalised world is best managed by a coalition of democratic governments, multinational companies, and civil society organisations. It sees global events like the 2008 financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic as opportunities to intensify its efforts.
Between 1989 and 1991, the geopolitical landscape changed. The Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union collapsed. The then US President George HW Bush declared a New World Order and claimed American victory in the cold war. During the 1990s, the WEF gained more importance and significance, establishing what’s known as the ‘Davos Class’. It’s a group of elite individuals who shape public policy and opinion.
As far as India is concerned, the WEF made efforts to include Indian participants from the mid-1970s. In 1984, the Forum invited Rajiv Gandhi, then the General Secretary of the ruling Congress Party. Less than a year later, it convened its first India Economic Summit in New Delhi in coordination with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). In describing India’s globalisation and liberalisation journey, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quoted as saying, the Forum would figure most prominently.
Over the years, the WEF has had its fair share of controversies. In 2004, its CEO and executive director, José María Figueres, resigned over undeclared receipts of more than $900,000 in consulting fees from the French telecommunications company Alcatel. In 2015, it decided to include a North Korean delegate for the first time since 1998 but revoked it after its nuclear test in January 2016. 2017 saw a head of state from China attend for the first time as President Xi Jinping spoke of China’s economy and being a leader for environmental causes.
VIEW: Necessary space with benefits for India
There’s no doubt that the WEF has been the subject of criticism and even ridicule. Questions about its relevance aren’t new or recent. However, the fundamental concept of the WEF is to bring together political and economic leaders. In a world that seems to be increasingly fractured, economic and corporate leadership on global governance is welcome. William Burke-White from the University of Pennsylvania Law School wrote on its importance in light of political failures. In particular, the damage former US President Donald Trump did by diminishing the country’s standing and role.
Concerning climate change, there’s a palpable and necessary urgency. However, there’s also a sense of complacency. At the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Madrid a few years back, little progress was made. WEF can become a place for political pressure and a venue for commitment and coordination. A couple of years back, at the WEF, 140 of the world’s largest companies pledged to develop environmental metrics. Other companies pledged to cut emissions.
Davos has recognised the changing times we live in. What was previously a secretive, cordoned-off event now has live-streamed sessions and panels. It has recognised the importance of emerging economies and set up regional meetings in Latin America, East Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
For India, it’s a global platform unlike any other. India’s economic ambitions are clear as day. The Forum represents an opportunity to showcase what it’s doing and what it will do. They’re important as the country looks to become one of the world’s biggest and most influential economies. This year, states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are on a mission – to woo global companies. Both states have already signed agreements with companies worth thousands of crores.
COUNTERVIEW: Chequered agendas and out of touch
The top line criticism surrounding Davos is basically describing the Forum itself – it’s the world’s elite gathering to shake hands while the rest of us are left to face the problems. In 1997, US political scientist Samuel Huntington coined the term, “Davos Man”. It wasn’t a compliment as it referred to someone with little need for national loyalty. Susan George wrote about the Davos class as a well-organised group that runs major institutions but is stuck to an ideology that isn’t working.
Davos has probably lost its shine as well. In stark contrast to Davos are events like the World Social Forum, an anti-big business and globalisation gathering, happening since 2001. Also, the younger generation of business leaders is more interested in hosting and participating in more open events like TED conferences or more technology-focused events like South by South West in Austin, Texas.
More often than not, Davos is seen as a place for western nations to exert their power and influence with the help of the top 1%. Businessmen use the WEF to discuss and finalise business deals behind closed doors. Whether these deals benefit the wider economy or only a select few is another relevant point. In wanting to address increasing inequality, a group of millionaires signed an open letter stating that they were taxed too little by their governments. Critics argue this is merely lip service.
The WEF hasn’t adapted to the world. Here are some reasons. The communications revolution in the early 2000s led to the birth of social media, and ordinary people had wider influence. The relative decline of the Transatlantic economies’ influence combined with the growth of Asia. Also, the assumption that the global elite could come together to predict or solve problems has been proven false. The 2008 global financial crisis is one glaring example. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are others.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The World Economic Forum (WEF) is still relevant and important.
b) The World Economic Forum (WEF) is not important and lost its relevance.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
To Find The Real Truths Of Bharat, Let Us All Dig In Earnest
For the Left:
Explained: Rahul Gandhi’s Subnationalism
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
MoU with IIM (Jammu) – IIM Jammu has signed an MoU with the Jammu and Kashmir Skill Development Department (SDD) to improve the skill development ecosystem. The programme will help mentor Polytechnics and ITIs by offering training courses to the principals and faculty of the institutes. The collaboration will help develop entrepreneurship and enhance the skill levels of faculty to help the youngsters of the Union Territory.
Why it matters: Last August, Principal Secretary Skill Development Department, Dr Asgar Hassan Samoon reviewed the functioning of ITIs across the Union Territory. He asked the heads of the institutes to hold awareness programmes and market their facilities so that more aspirants would apply. The government hopes that the new partnership will help enhance the employability of students per market requirements.
CPI(M)’s Muslim convention (Karnataka) – The Karnataka unit of the CPI(M) is gearing up for a Muslim convention in coastal Karnataka. Nearly 2,000 Muslim delegates from various districts are expected to attend. The country’s largest communist party has a mixed history with the Muslim community since it continues to be hesitant about what it calls identity politics. The main organiser, Muneer Katipalla wants to be the example of change for the party.
Why it matters: For the CPI(M), this is a different brand of politics. Apart from the Muslim community, it has a chequered past with other groups like Dalits and Adivasis. It’s used to organise around issues of labour and economic policy. In Karnataka, the party doesn’t have much political capital and little electoral impact. However, it has managed to consistently organise lakhs of workers for collective bargaining through trade unions and other groups.
Olympic Values Education Programme (Odisha) – The state launched a pilot programme on Olympic Values Education Programme (OVEP). It aims to provide a principles-based curriculum to students to help them become more active, healthy, and responsible citizens. It’s the first state in the country to launch this. It’s based on the Olympic philosophy of learning through the balanced development of the mind and body.
Why it matters: The pilot will cover 32,000 children across 90 schools in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela in the first year. The hope is to take it national and cover 70 lakh children. Part of the Olympic Movement’s contribution to society is holistic development and education. The programme will be integrated into the school syllabus.
National Ayurveda college (Goa) – The state Environment Impact Assessment Authority (Goa-SEIAA) gave the clearance to set up the All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA) at Dhargalim. The project proponents previously paid a fine of ₹23 lakh based on the cost of work seen when the Authority inspected it. The approval was given since the project is for public health and not commercial purposes.
Why it matters: The foundation for the All India Institute of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy was laid in November 2018. It will have a research centre, a 100-bed hospital and offer graduate and post-graduate programmes and later include homoeopathy courses.
Help for tea estates (Assam) – With the state ravaged by heavy rainfall and floods, the tea estates in the Barak valley have taken a hit. The Indian Tea Association has asked the state government for assistance in protecting the region’s workers. Roads between the Barak valley and Brahmaputra Valley have been disrupted. The tea estates haven’t been able to transport their produce. The rainfall has also affected power supply and telecommunications.
Why it matters: Back in 2020, the tea estates requested the government to bolster the grid supply to the tea gardens in the Barak valley. The estates have also been struggling financially due to the pandemic. The bad weather has compounded their problems as they’re unable to get raw materials and equipment. There’s also concern about food shortages in the coming days.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
29.5% – The government’s stake in Hindustan Zinc Limited will soon be sold. Last year, the Supreme Court allowed the government to divest its remaining share in the company. At the current market price, the stake is valued at around ₹38,000 crores.