When in doubt about what the future might bring, head for the hills. Better yet, escape to a nice little Alpine village to get away from it all.
That is exactly what roughly 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, selected intellectuals and journalists will do later this month in Davos, Switzerland. The World Economic Forum (WEF) will soon be conducting their annual soirée in this remote site, and their recent report, published ahead of the meeting, outlines the greatest hazards to our collective health over the next decade.
Will politicians listen or even care about fundamental issues that impact everyone? Will government policymakers head the warnings and act accordingly? If the past is any indication of the future, don’t hold your breath. Fiscal cliff negotiators took over a month to cobble together a near-term fix for minor items, but they, as European officials have been doing for nearly three years, kicked the heavily dented can of major issues down the road for yet another 60 days. Can these same politicos ever change their ways?
To begin with, the WEF is not some wild-eyed, liberal organization bent on our destruction. It is a non-profit Swiss foundation that defines itself as “an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.” It conducts up to eight regional meetings a year, but its flagship event is held in late January in Davos.
Attendance is by invitation only. The international conference spans a full five days, with over 220 informal sessions, designed to enable discussions about the key issues of global concern and potential solutions worthy of consideration. And what are the top five issues contained in the WEF report confronting the planet and us over the next decade? According to an Associated Press article, they are: the widening gap between the rich and the poor; burgeoning government deficits; climate change; water shortages; and aging populations.
Wow! Imagine that. These are exactly the same issues that our president has been attacking from every angle possible, only to face continuing obstructionism at every turn from wealthy Republicans unwilling to accept reality and do something about it. It seems that President Obama did learn a thing or two while attending Harvard and Columbia, despite the feeble protestations from birthers and the likes of Donald Trump.
In a related article by Holly Ellyatt of CNBC, entitled “Is Income Inequality as American as Apple Pie?”, the author delves a little deeper into the first WEF concern. She notes that a Harvard economist by the name of Arthur Okun published a piece in 1975 postulating that “inequality was the price to be paid for an efficient economy.” His thesis quickly became conservative dogma for the decades that followed and was continually reinforced by the right as a justification for their greed, selfishness and lack of compassion.
What has been the outcome of this overtly self-serving doctrine over the past 40 years? The Congressional Budget Office published a report in 2011 that documented that the incomes of the top 1 percent of households in our society grew 275 percent since the 1970s, while the bottom 80 percent managed only a 35 percent appreciation.
Is an “8X” multiple justified in America? Does this growing gulf actually produce more innovation or more economic efficiency, as the right proclaims? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “an international economic organisation of 34 countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade,” has a slightly different and more balanced opinion on the matter.
"On the one hand, inequalities in income distribution may create incentives for people to improve their situation through work, innovation or acquiring new skills," its November report stated. "On the other hand, such income inequalities are often viewed as being linked to crime, poverty and social exclusion," the OECD warned.
How does the United States rank with other countries regarding income inequality? There is actually a metric that measures this statistic. It is the “Gini Coefficient.” These rankings emanate from a combined effort by the OECD, the World Bank, the CIA and the United Nations. Our Gini factor, even after adjusting for taxes and transfers, has deteriorated, creating a wider inequality gap of 20 percent in the index over the past 40 years. When compared with the 34 member states of the OECD, we rank with the four worst offenders, right alongside Turkey, Mexico, and Chile, hardly economic powerhouses or socially conscious societies in their own right.
Will our elected officials finally deal with this apparent global issue? Perhaps yes, or perhaps no, but surely not as long as they only care about their own positions in Congress. In a side story that received little press, went so far as to drop the “F-bomb” on to appeal to fellow Republicans before the vote on his speakership reappointment.
Civility in Washington reached a new low after Reid suggested that Boehner could easily reach across the aisle for Democratic support for a tax proposal, rather than run a “dictatorship” where only a majority of the majority of Republicans would do. Boehner’s response with public cameras rolling was, “Go f--- yourself!” The letter “F” for the GOP has usually stood for “filibuster,” but Boehner’s locker-room gutter talk must have done the trick. He remains the Speaker of the House after a close vote.
Reid’s response summarizes the conundrum in Washington: “John Boehner seems to care more about his speakership than about keeping the nation on firm financial footing,” he said, adding that Boehner’s antics were more about saving his own skin after his many failures at keeping the Tea Party and other Republicans in line.
If our foremost political leaders cannot see past their own noses to see the faces of fellow Americans and their economic plight, how will they ever abandon 40-year-old ideas that have long passed their usefulness in today’s new era of globalization? Maybe it is time to head for the hills with the other “preppers” or hit the Alpine slopes in some far off land. Time to make your voices heard! Lean Forward!
References: Embedded links provided, but points made are primarily the opinion of the author.