Elites at Davos Search for Ways to Stop Populist Wave

davos-elits

The great and the good of Davos agree they have a problem with populism. Finding a solution is the hard part.

On the second day of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss Alps, delegates disagreed on how best to address the upending of the western political order, a debate made doubly urgent by the string of elections in Europe this year where anti-establishment parties could gain more ground.

While International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde urged a list of policies from programs to retrain workers to more social spending, others fretted that the turbulence is only starting. Hedge Fund billionaire Ray Dalio warned on a panel chaired by Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua that “we may be at a point where globalization is ending, and provincialization and nationalization is taking hold.”

That leaves technocrats trying to patch together potentially expensive remedies to make the current system of global trade, banking and business links that the Davos club represents acceptable to the public at a time when newcomers like U.S. president elect Donald Trump threaten to dismantle it by scrapping trade deals and introducing tariffs.

‘Man Up’

“We need to go to a system where we are protecting workers, not jobs, and society will help people retrain or reorient,” Richard Baldwin, professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, said in an interview in Davos. “There may just be a need to man up. We have to pay for the social cohesion that we need to keep our societies advancing, and accept that this may be a higher tax burden on people.”

Lagarde said policy makers “really have to think it through and see what can be done” given the feedback from voters who say “No.” Among measures that could be implemented are fiscal and structural reforms, she added.

“But it needs to be granular, it needs to be regional, it needs to be focused on what will people get out of it and it probably means more redistribution than we have in place at the moment,” Lagarde told the panel entitled “Squeezed and angry: how to fix the middle-class crisis.” Excessive inequalities were a brake on sustainable growth, she said.

Davos over the decades has become synonymous with globalization and open markets, but in the background this year is the failure of business and political elites to predict any of the seismic political events that shaped 2016. That has raised questions over whether they are capable of understanding and addressing the anti-establishment forces that have roiled the U.S. and Europe over the past year.

After Trump and Brexit, there are more votes coming this year. Elections are due in the Netherlands, France and Germany, with a possible early poll in Italy following a constitutional referendum where voters rallied against the government.

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SOURCE: Jeff Black and John Follain 
Bloomberg