The world’s financial elite, from finance ministers to central bankers to business leaders to high-ranking government officials, held their annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland this week. This year, the meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) from January 17th to January 20th was focused on how the changing political and economic landscape around the world has pushed back against globalization in favor of populism.
Not surprisingly, most of the attendees were at the end of the wits with how to preserve their “new world order” of neoliberal economics.
Gone With the Wind
Much of the conversation at Davos comes across as a plea for globalization. In essence, the non-profit organization is one of the leading lobby groups for the financial elite. There’s a reason these forums are so public and covered extensively by the financial news media.
Still, it seemed as though the last year of populist shifts, from Brexit in the U.K. to the ascendance of Donald Trump to the presidency in the U.S., had yet to entirely sink in for the Davos crowd. Theirs would seem to be a worldview gone by, given the unequivocal rejection of globalist initiatives by voters around the Western world.
In case you weren’t convinced of the meeting’s globalist credentials, the IMF’s director, Christine Legarde, told the audience the following: “To turn our back on globalization . . . is exactly the wrong approach.” Legarde was recently tried in her native France for negligence during her time as that country’s Minister of Finance.
China Offers Support
The appeal to greater global integration and borderless trade policy even had a surprising proponent: Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also the leader of the country’s Communist Party. This was the first time the top-ranking official from the People’s Republic had ever attended the meeting, which has been held annually since 1971. Usually, the Chinese premier (the second in command) is the country’s representative at the WEF meeting.
Xi positioned himself as a pro-globalist, defending the movement as not responsible for the economic problems around the world. Another member of the Chinese delegation, Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of online retailer Alibaba, reiterated this point, blaming the woes of the U.S. economy on the mismanagement of the spoils of globalization (rather than the process itself).
This was surprising not only because China’s relatively low profile at such gatherings, but also because of how much has changed in the geopolitical landscape. Back in the WWII era, another populist moment in U.S. politics, the main adversary of American conservatives was “internationalism” and movement seeking to unite the workers of the world. China is the world’s leading communist nation, and yet it has begun to embrace a variety of free-market reforms.
Whether or not the edifice of globalism crumbles before us, or the attendees of the WEF adjust to reality, remains to be seen.
For all of the top stories coming out of Davos 2017, you can read more here.
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