- Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and the cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast.
- He spoke with Peter Goodman about his new book and the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.
- Goodman says Davos has become a feel-good event for billionaires who refuse to make real change.
Every year, some of the most powerful people on Earth gather in Davos, a town in Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting.
“These are billionaires, heads of state, the odd celebrity,” said New York Times global economics correspondent Peter Goodman in the latest episode of “Pitchfork Economics.” “It’s a place where billionaires go to meet in secret rooms where they’re not bothered by SEC disclosures, journalists, or other annoyances.”
The WEF and its participants promote the annual gathering as a huge positive for the world, a forum in which super-wealthy do-gooders and other global superpowers gather to “build problem-solving communities and initiatives,” according to the WEF’s website.
The WEF breathlessly hails this year’s forum on its website as a comic-book-style battle between good and evil, with the oligarchs on the side of justice: “Against a backdrop of deepening global frictions and fractures, it will be the starting point for a new era of global responsibility and cooperation.”
Goodman, who attended Davos for a decade, begs to differ. He said the annual WEF meeting is “a gathering that is full of the ultimate beneficiaries for the status quo,” and that it promotes “win-win solutions to every problem — and win-win is a great way of avoiding sacrifice.”
Last year’s Davos forum, for example, discussed topics including plastics pollution, providing internet access for the poorest nations in the world, and “the responsible adoption of AI in the global public interest.”
But Davos’s most noteworthy topics are the ones that don’t typically get discussed: For instance, historian Rutger Bregman made waves in 2019 when he told the affluent audience at Davos that they were ignoring the solution that mattered most: “Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion,” he famously told the hostile crowd, adding that “it feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water.”
Goodman’s new book, “Davos Man: How Billionaires Devoured the World,” elaborates on Bregman’s argument by identifying how the Davos gathering gives the world’s richest people a do-gooder cover story that allows them to continue extracting their exorbitant wealth from the global 99% — and feel good while doing it.
“This is an elaborate prophylactic against fair distribution of wealth and against progressive taxation, regulation, and antitrust enforcement,” he said.
One of the examples Goodman points out is Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a billionaire who at Davos last year announced that “in the pandemic it was CEOs in many, many cases all over the world who were the heroes.”
Benioff “wasn’t talking about frontline medical workers,” Goodman said. “He wasn’t talking about the people delivering our packages or processing our food, having to put their own health on the line so the rest of us can eat. He was talking about CEOs” as the true heroes of the pandemic.
Benioff’s statement indicates that the world’s richest people genuinely believe their own hype. Trickle-down economists and politicians have spent four decades telling the super-rich that they, not working people, are the true heroes of the economy, and that they’re worth every single penny they stash away in their offshore accounts.
At events like Davos and through their much-publicized philanthropic work, the wealthiest people in the world are celebrated and celebrate themselves — all while quietly spending untold billions lobbying for self-enriching policies like tax cuts for the wealthy and the deregulation of the finance industry, and pushing against unions, minimum-wage hikes, and other policies that empower average workers.
Goodman said critics have told him that he’s too hard on the world’s wealthiest people. “The point of this book is not to demonize billionaires or wealthy people,” Goodman said. “It’s to note that we should not be outsourcing the solution of life’s problems to billionaires and expecting that, through stakeholder capitalism or philanthropy or whatever idea they cook up next in their public relations laboratory, we can just simply dismantle government and forget about progressive taxation and regulation.”
The solutions to the very real problems discussed at Davos every year are relatively simple, but they’ll never be welcomed by the Davos audience.
By paying the same share of taxes that ordinary people pay and by improving economic outcomes for working families around the globe, the Davos crowd could immediately end a huge amount of pain and suffering at a historic scale. The only people who aren’t ready to hear about that solution, unfortunately, are the people who gather at Davos every year.