Arriving in Davos today, deep snow provided a familiar scenic backdrop to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. Although, following the warmest December on record here in Switzerland, heavy snow has arrived only in the last few days. Things could have looked very different.
The same might be said for the state of the world. This time last year, my opening blog centred around how complex and unpredictable our tightly interconnected world is becoming. We are learning to expect the unexpected. 2015 was a year of multiplying security concerns. Since last year, the number of conflicts in our neighbourhood has massively increased. The Russian/Ukrainian situation is still not solved, the Middle-East is more uncertain and confusing than ever, North Africa is at the edge of sliding further downhill and Europe is in the biggest political crisis since the formation of the European Union.
Considering that environment, isn’t it amazing how well the economy is doing? Even more so, when we factor in the continuing challenges for Greece, indecisive election results in Portugal and Spain, and some Eastern European governments apparently keen to reopen the question of whether they really want to build a society based on democratic rights, free press, independent justice and the freedom of the individual. I could go on – we also have the steep decline in oil prices, China slowing down, currencies tumbling – and yet somehow the picture across the global economy looks not too dissimilar in January 2016 as it did one year ago. There are some dark clouds on the horizon and yet there are plenty of grounds for optimism too.
One major driver of constant change and opportunity is technology. The theme of this year’s meeting is Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution – including the dramatic combined transformational effect of data, connectivity and digitalisation on so many facets of our lives, at home and at work. The speed of change is unprecedented in the history of humankind. The benefits and opportunities are huge – and some of the challenges and effects may be substantial too. What will digitalisation do to the world? Cut middle class jobs? Will it widen the wealth gap? This is a topic under the spotlight with a report published this week by Oxfam saying that just 62 super-rich people now possess more wealth than all of the poorer half of the global population. The effects of digital disruption – and the Fourth Industrial Revolution – may be accelerating that trend.
Obviously the fundamental question is not whether 62, 620 or 6200 are holding this wealth. The fundamental question – after hunger and starvation – is whether the world is able to provide adequate access to education and rewarding jobs. We need to turn our attention to offering perspectives to young people from less developed countries or less fortunate families. Even more so as Europe feels the impact of millions of refugees making their way into the Western World, some escaping from war and terror, but a large proportion just looking for a better life. In the recent past we haven’t been confronted with a better example of the failure of ignorance. Shutting our eyes and focusing on domestic questions doesn’t work anymore. People in the remotest places have access to international press and social media. They will hear about the way of life and the social benefits in our developed world. It is therefore in our best interest to invest into the education and wellbeing of people in their home countries. One thing is for sure, technology can be a huge help in addressing that challenge.
As every year, there is a wide field of interesting topics to discuss or just listen to here in Davos. I’ll be writing with my personal reflections on each day of this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting. I hope you’ll enjoy reading these blogs and those from my five JLL colleagues who will also be contributing to this year’s Notes From Davos. Please add your comments and let me know what you think.