Davos (Switzerland) (AFP) – After a gala opening set against spectacular snowfall, the World Economic Forum starts in earnest on Tuesday basking in robust global growth but facing warnings that the world’s have-nots are missing out more than ever.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to deliver the first keynote speech of the WEF in Davos, bookending a week that will climax in an address by US President Donald Trump, a year after he took office on a populist platform that demonised the globalist Davos crowd.
The president’s trip to the Swiss ski resort had seemed in doubt due to a government shutdown triggered by congressional warfare last week. But a deal taking shape Monday freed him to travel, the White House said.
Undermining rosy data on the world economy are warnings that elite fora such as Davos must start finding solutions for everyone else down the income ladder as the “one percent” amass untold riches a decade since a major financial crisis erupted.
“We certainly should feel encouraged, but we should not feel satisfied,” International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde said on Monday in presenting an upbeat update to the organisation’s forecasts for global growth.
“First of all, there are still too many people left out from the recovery and acceleration of growth,” she said.
Accounting group PwC underscored the IMF’s positive outlook with survey findings pointing to record confidence among company bosses worldwide.
The survey had good news for Trump, touting his party’s huge corporate tax cut as a boon for the US and foreign investors.
But in a separate report unveiled in Davos, Oxfam said the world’s richest one percent raked in 82 percent of the wealth created last year while the poorest half of the population received none.
– Pope speaks out –
The British charity described a global economy in which the wealthy few amass ever-greater fortunes while hundreds of millions of people are “struggling to survive on poverty pay”.
“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima said.
And in a message to the Davos forum, Pope Francis warned that debates about technological progress and economic growth must not supplant concern for humanity at large.
“We cannot remain silent in the face of the suffering of millions of people whose dignity is wounded,” the pontiff’s message said.
Few countries display the abyss between rich and poor as much as India, where newly minted billionaires live in close proximity to street urchins. The gap endures despite rapid growth under Modi’s right-wing government.
The Hindu nationalist leader — accompanied by several ministers, a high-powered business delegation, and two yoga instructors — will advertise India’s appeal for investors as he vies to untangle decades-worth of red tape.
Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was one of three celebrities awarded on Monday night by the WEF for their humanitarian work, along with singer Elton John and actress Cate Blanchett.
That ceremony was followed by a ballet performance featuring music derived from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” — fitting on a night that saw the Alpine resort of Davos hit by its heaviest snowfall in two decades and avalanche warnings raised.
After Tuesday, the week will continue with appearances by some 70 other leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, whose campaign for a “French Renaissance” kicked into overdrive Monday as his government welcomed 140 multinational business leaders en route to Davos.
Perhaps looking on enviously was British Prime Minister Theresa May, who faces the challenge in Davos of persuading many of the same bosses that Britain remains a safe haven for investment, despite its messy Brexit divorce from the European Union.