As the world’s financial, political and intellectual leaders gather this week in Davos for the World Economic Forum, the focus is on one key issue and one key person.
The issue: Is globalism making a comeback? Put differently, how are business and political leaders there balancing the long-term globalization trends with the more recent populist pressures. All indications are that the globalist scales are gaining momentum.
The person: President Donald Trump and whether his brand of politics is good for the world economy or not.
Update at 8:43 am ET: Following a trumpet band, President Trump took the Davos speech to try to persuade members there — and anyone listening globally — that America is open for business. He touted the business gains — high stock market, low unemployment, reduced regulations, tax cuts, and more. He also seemed to offer an opening to the Trans Pacific Partnership group — either collectively or individually — to create a trade pact. It was a quick mention, but unmistakeable after recent headlines that the U.S. has ceded regional leadership to China.
The President also exclaimed that “America First does not mean America Alone,” perhaps responding to the latest Time cover that builds the case that America is, indeed, alone.
Given speeches from other world leaders this week — France President Emmanuel Macron gave a muscular speech on Wednesday with the New York Times reporting he “laid claim to the mantle of leader of the free world.” On the same day, the NYT states, “German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni issued their own forceful speeches toward advancing European integration, while defending the notion of international cooperation.”
Before the President’s speech, Politico looked at Trump’s motivations for attending:
The annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, will be choking with the kind of people who disdain Donald Trump and genuinely regard his presidency as a menace to the planet. In other words: exactly the kind of party Trump loves to crash.
Here’s how Time portrayed Trump’s attendance:
A year after Trump’s election raised the prospect of revolution, the elites have regained their confidence. The revolt had been put down, stock markets are up, and globalism is making a comeback.
Trump may be the most important person in the world, and in Washington, his Administration is an engine of outrage and convulsion. But he was hardly the central topic of conversation in Davos. The globalists, it seemed, had more important things to discuss. Things like connectivity and artificial intelligence and inclusive growth. The plight of refugees and how to address global pandemics and “drones for all.”
However, Reuters says world leaders talked down — and even ignored — Trump while betting big on the United States:
As the world’s top policymakers and executives await Trump to address the Davos summit, they are privately voicing disbelief and disgruntlement at his foreign affairs, retreat on environmental issues and colorful tweeting.
African leaders feel insulted after Trump is said to have classified their countries as shitholes, a comment he denies making. Latin American leaders are criticizing his retreat from a Pacific-wide trade pact. And some top executives say they have declined invitations to meet with him during the summit.
But with the U.S. stock market soaring, Trump’s corporate tax cuts padding companies’ pockets and U.S. consumers spending again, companies here are quietly applauding the U.S. president even as many Davos delegates see him as an unwelcome outsider.
CNBC notes the world’s business leaders are happier than they were this time last year.
Fears over trade protectionism and immigration have given way to an embrace of the business opportunities created by tax cuts, accelerating economic growth and a buoyant stock market that hit yet another record high.
The truth is, neither option has much of a chance of working: the distance between Trump and the globalists is too great. Instead, both sides need to be more realistic. The Davos men and women need to open their minds to the idea that some of what Trump has to say may be right. They need to pay attention to the many people around the world who rightly fear globalization and modernity. Trump is wrong to paint trade and immigration as the culprits, but millions of jobs will disappear in the coming years thanks to new technologies, from robotics to driverless vehicles to artificial intelligence. What new jobs these advances create will require new skills and the training and education to perform them. The Davos globalists may well have to pay higher taxes to help fund needed retraining, transitional economic assistance and better public education. The stakes are high: the populism that, for the moment, is in modest retreat will return with a vengeance if large numbers of people around the world are left behind.