This is the message I give to Davos man or woman for the 2017 January meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, unless you want to go skiing of course. Picking a theme like inequality or climate change is all well and good.
However, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the USA on the 20th January and Theresa May, UK Prime Minster, taking a harder line with Brexit from the EU once Article 50 of the EU Charter is triggered. The opportunity has arisen for a new type of rebel against the new anti-establishment establishment now that Brexiteers and Trumpites are in their ascendancy.
Global business executives, politicians, commentators and celebrity activists instead of lamenting about the ending of the Obama Presidency now need to embrace not just a new agenda of defending and improving liberal democracy, as the best political engine for raising living standards around the world, but a better way of involving its increasingly disparaged citizens in the process.
More elite group thinking in the cool mountain air is not going to resolve any loss of confidence in Western political systems that caused the political upsets of 2016. It has allowed the rise of nationalism and nativism across Europe and the successful isolationist rhetoric of the Trump presidential campaign.
Will he and his new administration be all bad? He seems to be rather thin skinned and rises to the bait or “tweet” far too quickly for trouble not to be too far away.
However, global stockmarkets have rallied, perhaps too far, in anticipation of looser fiscal policy, reflation and rising bond rates. Investment strategists have suggested the US should publicly finance infrastructure as one area of fiscal policy earmarked to get a boost under Trump.
How the new administration deals with Russia’s President Putin over claimed election interference with Rex Tillerson as the new Secretary of State, a lifelong oilman with business dealings with Russia, will be worth following. So too will the complex negotiations with Iran and Saudi Arabia over Syria, Yemen, trade sanctions and global terrorism. Furthermore, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea with its neighbours will test and stress his administration to the limit no doubt.
Although it’s likely he’ll rely on his team to do the job for him and I suspect he’ll be as much of a part-timer as possible with Kellyanne Conway and his daughter Ivanka likely to feature a lot in managing the media (and his tweets) in the months ahead.
So what can the new establishment rebels do to make sure they don’t experience the political shocks that upset them so much in 2016 continuing in 2017?
Well to begin with, as it will take more time than a 4 year presidential term or the timeframe for the UK to exit the EU formally. By engaging with people and organisations not based in capitals or large metropolitan areas to better understand, argue and formulate changes to the political system.
Politicians and political elites should promote and introduce deliberative democracy techniques using sortition and lots for forming representative bodies. As in Finland, organise trials for universal basic income models to help alleviate anticipated long term employment or lifestyle changes due to technological advancement.
Well intentioned worries over inequality at Davos won’t produce any worthwhile solutions unless more people perceive they aren’t excluded from society or its opportunities by distant wealthy elites. This is surely the lesson from 2016 and any time now would be a good time to address it. Lest unpalatable results materialising further for those who claim to know best what’s good for society.
It might even be interesting experience transitioning to a new democratic system of governance now that could be worth talking about at some future Davos gathering.