Davos 2018: Is it time for change at the capital of capitalism?

22 January 2018, 20:33

There are two roads that wind their way through the mountainside town of Davos, and, on both, the traffic is at a standstill.

A line of cars - blacked-out Mercedes saloons, smart people-carriers and the occasional Swiss army truck.

Snow swirls relentlessly. This town, the highest in Europe, is having its snowiest period for two decades, and it feels cold and remote. Except, of course, it has the eyes of the world trained upon it.

Welcome to Davos, home to the World Economic Forum. There will probably be no event this year that sees so much power, money and influence gathered together in one place.

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will open the forum on Tuesday morning; Donald Trump will close it on Friday.

In between, there will be speeches from Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron and many, many others. There are 70 people on the Davos guest list considered to be either the head of state, or the head of government. Or, one assumes, both.

That means that roughly one in three world leaders will be here, up the top of a mountain. Little wonder that the prices in Davos restaurants can make even a finance minister wince.

There are those who see all this aggregation of power as something sinister. Steve Bannon, once the main policy adviser to President Trump, derided his opponents as "the party of Davos".

Now Bannon has been fired and Trump is planning to come to "the magic mountain". But there is a sense at this year's forum that the criticism needs answering - that the concept of capitalism needs analysing and, perhaps, updating for a changing world.

Andy Baldwin is a managing partner for the financial services giant EY. He covers Europe, India, Africa and other territories, and says the World Economic Forum is a precious chance to exchange ideas. Davos, he says, is "a unique opportunity... there is nothing else like it".

He told me that he sees global growth as being better than many predictions but also believes that many discussions in Davos would revolve around the "question of inequality".

The irony is obvious - fabulously wealthy people discussing inequality while ensconced in a Swiss ski resort. Yet Davos does do an extraordinary, unique job - it brings together the people who can shape our world.

Even the proportion of women here has increased, albeit it has just breached the line of 20%. Progress, albeit slow, but marked by the fact that, for the first time, the designated chairpeople are all women. Davos may change slowly, but it does change.

For the political class, it is the party that you might claim to hate, but to which you find yourself irresistibly attracted, which is why even John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, is on his way to this capital of capitalism. Little wonder that, as night falls, the roads are still jammed.