Talking about doing good among the global elite is hollow

If the rich don’t give more today, they may have to give more tomorrow. That was my conclusion at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. I left feeling that 0.1% were more disconnected from the state of the world than at any point in the 20+ years I’ve been in the conference.

Perhaps a Saudi-sponsored cafe on the promenade bearing the name of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man responsible for the murder of exiled Arab journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to declassified U.S. intelligence . Or maybe the socialite told Ukrainian officials to “keep it short” at her lunch.

This could be a conversation about climate change at a beef dinner. Or the massive armed police and security presence, which always makes me wonder if the global elite has ever considered why so much protection is needed at these gatherings in the first place.

Davos Not a problem – although it’s certainly not a solution.But the annual event is a high-profile measure, despite the talk of stakeholders over the past few decades capitalism And “doing good”, the state of the world is not improving.

In fact, I think it’s getting worse due in large part to the fact that even when businesses talk about curbing emissions or improving education or enhancing healthcare, it often undermines the public sector that is responsible for making these things happen. Except for patriotic millionaires, for example, who took part in protests demanding “Tax us now!”, few super-rich seem to view paying taxes as anything other than a personal attack. The intention of the government is to give, but never to take.

I was surprised that an executive told government officials not to worry, that businesses “don’t need any money” to make the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. How generous given that corporate profits remain near record highs even as the government struggles under the weight of a pandemic fiscal plan, coupled with additional debt from slower growth and lower taxes over the past two years.

As always, there is much talk of declining skill levels in many rich countries as public education fails to keep up with technology. In the US in particular, we often complain about the loss of global competitiveness due to infrastructure failures.But no one seems to be paying attention to the fact that the public sector lacks the ability to properly rebuild these systems precisely because business is so successful lobby against its ability to do so.

Don’t even get me started on the cost of private healthcare, or why the American business world itself isn’t such a mystery nonstop lobbying for the public Sector alternative. This reform will make it easier to compete with European countries and others that support healthcare as a public good, delivering significant (though not precisely calculated) economic benefits in the form of a more productive workforce.

The point here is that Western business leaders have for years accused the government of failing to provide basic public services. But a blanket privatization and neoliberal race to outsource wealth and labor is making it increasingly difficult for them to do so.

However, companies are never willing to acknowledge their role. Too many CEOs prefer to have endless, (often) empty and fruitless conversations about “stakeholder initiatives” and “public-private partnerships.” None of this makes up for the hollowing out of basic public services in many liberal democracies.

Politicians are making some progress. The recent OECD tax treaty, led by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, is a step in the right direction. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the highest-ranking member of the country’s Davos delegation, spoke about how investment must replace deregulation and tax cuts as the future growth medicine.

But you can’t solve a 40-year-old problem overnight. Rebuilding “human capital” (as the people of Davos say) in American politics will take time. An entire generation of talent is missing because, starting in the late 1980s, the culture of money has drawn the best and brightest to Wall Street or Silicon Valley, not Washington. That’s a big reason why we now have an ideologically and age-differentiated political class, led by centrists in their late eighties like Joe Biden or young activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez .

Businesses should be mindful of this gap, which is certainly not good for “growth and stability,” two things executives have been calling for. They use the mantra at a time of increasing economic and political instability, thanks in large part to their own efforts. I worry that the gulf between public and private sector health and prospects, and between capital and labor, may get worse before it gets better.

one of the important topics of used to be Discussed at Davos were expectations for the coming wave of white-collar outsourcing and the loss of technology jobs. As one US CEO said when discussing remote work: “If you can do it in Tahoe, you can do it in India.”

I wonder how workers and voters in rich countries will perceive this situation.

rana.foroohar@ft.com

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