Someone noted yesterday that the makeup of the Egyptian demonstrators had changed — that the middle class had broken through the “fear barrier” and had now taken to the streets. Think about that, because all over the world, the fear barriers are starting to fall and this is a huge threat to the global establishment, the very people who flock to Davos each year for the World Economic Forum:
Poverty and unemployment reared their heads at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, with speakers urging the elite audience to bridge a growing gap between booming multinationals and the jobless poor.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who also chairs the Socialist International group of center-left parties, said the global crisis had led to an “unsustainable” race to the bottom in labor standards and social protection in developed nations.
“Politically, I believe we are at a turning point where… there are signs in Europe of more nationalism, more racism, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitism, fundamentalisms of all types,” he said. “We need to look to a different model.”
Maurice Levy, chairman and chief executive of French advertising giant Publicis, said there was “a huge suspicion about CEOs, bankers, corporations.”
“People do not understand that these large corporations are doing extremely well, while their lives have not improved and without the support of the people, there is no way we will be able to grow,” he told a panel discussion.
“We have been led by greed. We have been led by only the bottom line, the profit and we have sacrificed the workers in order to please the stockholders.”
The increasing division between fast-growing emerging market economies and stagnating, jobless nations in the developed world has been a theme at the talks in Davos this year, which some corporations pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend.
Corporate chieftains have preferred to focus on their optimism that roaring growth in countries such as China and India will outweigh flat or declining sales in Europe or Japan, allowing them to keep growing profits.
But some speakers suggested this was short-sighted.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said tackling income inequalities was essential to future growth and needed to be part of the core of doing business in the 21st century.