On Wednesday, the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting—a gathering of business and political elites from around the world—began in Davos, Switzerland. The stated goal of the three-day event is “improving the state of the world.” It’s only the first day, but there’s one distinct note issuing from Davos so far: pessimism.
Expanding on the myriad reasons for pessimism about the world economy would go far beyond the scope of this article, but a few preoccupations on display at Davos so far include worries about global growth, emerging markets, China’s slowdown, Europe’s future, extremely low oil prices, the boardrooms’ gender gap, the automation of jobs, and, perhaps the most pessimistic of all, the threat of another financial crisis and no regulatory tools left to fight it. CEOs are reportedly anxious: Only 27 percent feel optimistic about economic growth worldwide, according to a PwC survey. (Worry isn’t exactly new, though: Global financial instability figured heavily in last year’s annual meeting too.)
While the negative emotions and beliefs that people hold during times of economic instability can matter a lot, there’s another anxiety at Davos that could be a little more productive. Though the World Economic Forum has often been written off as an elite schmoozefest, the issue of global inequality has been a theme at Davos for the last five years.