Uncertainty in a Time of Hope: Interpreting the 2018 World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos
The themes chosen for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos-Klosters, Switzerland are sometimes rather different to the topics the world’s political and economic leaders want to talk about. 2018 was one of those years. The official theme ‘Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World’ speaks to a somewhat apprehensive and negative view of the present. But, with some notable exceptions, the politicians and CEOs gathered in the Swiss Resort chose to express their optimism about global growth and their plans for encouraging more of it.
This optimism can be contrasted with 2017 where the WEF met in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the US Presidency. Much of the discussion was about how to interpret this controversial figure and anxiety about what to expect over the following 12 months. There were other uncertainties too especially around Brexit and Europe’s refugee crisis. WEF 2016 had projected a similar degree of insecurity with worries centred on global growth and particularly what some delegates thought was a faltering Chinese economy. In 2018 there is no longer the same sense of uncertainty. But it may well be that the organisers of the WEF responded to the anxiety expressed at the last two meetings by setting a similarly anxious theme this year, with its implications that the global political-economy is ‘fractured’ and that a more collaborative narrative is needed.
As always, at Davos, the real theme emerged, or was at least uncovered, through the process of the event. Against this benchmark, the South African delegation under newly elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa was right on message. Ramaphosa’s team was able to do two things which were much more difficult the previous year: They were able to admit to problems but were also able to point to solutions in the pipeline. But this is only the start. Any disjuncture between a positive narrative and actions back in the office will be become apparent. The real work is only beginning.
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