In times of rising economic nationalism, is the World Economic Forum still relevant?
There is a rising tide of anti-capitalist forces on the Left and economic nationalism on the Right. These forces, while on the opposite sides of the political spectrum, they have a common enemy. That enemy is globalisation. On the Right, political movements, like US President Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ movement, blame globalisation for taking away jobs. As trade barriers have broken down, Trump accuses countries like China of stealing American jobs. It was these forces that rode of a maelstrom of angry voters across America’s mid-west, the so-called ‘rust belt’, that propelled Trump to the White House, making the fact clear whether he wanted to be there or not, as a recent book says, a moot point. On the Left, anti-capitalist forces have coalesced across the world, extreme Left-leaning leaders, like Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party and Bernie Sanders in the United States have vowed to dismantle the capitalist system that they accuse of bringing in unprecedented levels of economic inequality to their nations.
So, it becomes a pertinent question to ask: Why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to visit Davos to attend the 2018 edition of the World Economic Forum as India’s main salesman? And it is also peculiar why so many of India’s top industrialists make it an annual stopover. The India story is well-known, it is unfortunately getting to be known as one of potential but of underachievement. The Indian economy is growing, but it is clearly not growing fast enough to provide employment to the millions of young people in the country that will enter the workforce every year. Also, Indian growth so far has led to growing income disparity between the haves and have-nots. The vaunted Indian middle-class is ephemeral, India’s growth is being driven by a small sliver of its population. For India to replicate the Chinese economic miracle of raising hundreds of millions out of poverty and into the middle-classes, it needs to do a lot more.
And this is why Prime Modi’s visit to Davos is so important. Modi needs to convince global investors that India is open for business. India has been getting a lot of bad Press across the world. India needs global investors to come in and for that, the Prime Minister needs to sell the country hard because he is competing for those investments with other countries. Companies are afraid to invest in some countries, especially those where a bunch of rag-tag idiots threaten violence against a movie. India still has the potential to grow, but it needs to show that it is open for business and while wooing global investors at meetings helps, so would action against bullies.
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