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Mohamed A. El-Erian

Davos Meetings Are Full of Potential But Rarely Full of Solutions

The World Economic Forum is gathering again and the list of economic problems facing the world is long and getting longer.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

I have never taken up the opportunity to attend the Davos meeting and I will pass again this year. That, however, does not mean that I do not follow its evolution and outcomes. I am certainly interested in what could emerge from a meeting that brings together so many leaders of governments, civil society and business.
In an ideal world, this year’s meeting would prove catalytic in two important ways. First, it would trigger greater awareness of ongoing watershed developments in the global economy and draw attention to how differently these are viewed around the world. And second, it would point to ways in which an increasingly “zero-sum” view of international coordination can be reshaped to contribute to collective resilience and inclusive prosperity.
The list of ongoing watershed developments in the global economy is long, extending well beyond the horrific war in Ukraine and the associated human tragedies. Here is an example of what is on such a list:

I suspect that, while the vast majority of Davos participants will agree on this list (and, indeed, add a few more items), there will be quite a bit of disagreement on the causes and longer-term consequences. Such disagreement is problematic in two ways. First, it undermines the shared responsibility needed to address challenges with important international dimensions; and second, it erodes even more trust in the existing international order. Unless the disagreements can be resolved, the damaging effects will deepen and spread.
On paper, the upcoming Davos meeting would be perfectly suited for resolving these conflicts. History, however, does not provide much encouragement or optimism.
Time and time again, Davos has fallen victim to a lack of focus and actionable unifying vision. Individual and collective interests have remained unreconciled. Distractions abound. As a result, the output has been, at best, backward-leaning.
Given the multiple crossroads facing the global economy, this would be a particularly good time for Davos to fulfill its considerable potential — to look ahead, not back. To identify solutions instead of just problems. Otherwise, the forum will evolve even more into a network and social club that is, and is widely perceived to be, even more decoupled from the realities of many and the challenges of most.