The Davos theme this year is ‘Creating a shared future in a fractured world’. The World Economic Forum is putting on a show of taking seriously the political and social stresses of this moment. The six co-chairs for this year’s conference are all women, led by Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF. And, while the crowd is still dominated by chief executives, political leaders and journalists, the forum is formally a multi-stakeholder get-together and boasts over 500 delegates from civil society, religious organizations and even a handful of unions.
This year’s Davos is a paradox. The global elite are getting together in a Swiss alpine resort to berate themselves—through the voices of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and, loudest of all, US President Donald Trump—that they are out of touch with society.
These self-inflicted scoldings are calibrated to soothe elite anxiety. If successful, they will only harm the interests of those in the room.
Elites aren’t nearly anxious enough about how ‘fractured’ the world is, and the precariousness of their own wealth. This moment is a second Renaissance. And a Renaissance is a time of revolution, not reform. Davos attendees have warmed up to Donald Trump over his first year in office: by not starting a trade war with China (yet) and by offering a generous tax cut to business, he has proven himself to be friendly to their interests. But the same disgust with elite aloofness that elected Trump could have put Bernie Sanders into office just as easily. The global elite got lucky. That’s all.
The excluded in society are restless, and empowered. To stay relevant, to stay safe in their Swiss chalets, chief executives at the Davos gathering should react by doing something revolutionary: commit, collectively, only to contract labour from the gig economy if it is unionized.
It’s not a socialist manifesto; it’s a conservative one. Let labor scramble to self-organize and meet this new demand. Unburden business from trying to meet social objectives that confuse investment decisions.
Workplace unions are obsolete—organizing for better factory conditions is irrelevant once we’ve gotten rid of the factory. Organizing for better social conditions is urgent—but isn’t a priority for Davos Man. That’s why the revolution is coming. Unless business brings it first.