The Davos Class, Susan George | Transnational Institute

January 2012

The Davos Class

The Davos class run our major institutions, know exactly what they want, and are well organized, but they have weaknesses too. For they are wedded to an ideology that isn’t working and they have virtually no ideas nor imagination to resolve this.

(This article  is adapted with minor editorial changes from Susan George’s recent book Whose Crisis, Whose Future?  (Polity Press and John Wiley & Sons, 2010)

‘“All for ourselves and nothing for other people” seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind,’i  wrote Adam Smith in 1776 in The Wealth of Nations, universally considered the first comprehensive inquiry into the nature and practice of capitalism.

The masters of mankind are still with us:  I call them the Davos class because, like the people who meet each January in the Swiss mountain resort, they are nomadic, powerful and interchangeable. Some have economic power and usually a considerable personal fortune. Others have administrative and political power, mostly exercised on behalf of those with economic power, who reward them in their own way. Contradictions among its members can most certainly exist – the CEO of an industrial company does not always have exactly the same interests as his bankers – but generally speaking,  when it comes to societal choices, they will agree.

I’m not impugning anybody’s individual morality here – there are surely plenty of kind-hearted bankers, generous traders and socially responsible CEOs. I am simply saying that, as a class, they can be counted on to behave in certain ways if only because they serve a single system. The Davos class, despite its members’ nice manners and well-tailored clothes, is predatory. These people cannot be expected to act logically because they are not thinking about longer-term interests, usually not even their own, but about eating, right now.

You can find the Davos class in every country – its members do not belong to a conspiracy and its modus operandi can be readily observed and identified.  Why bother with conspiracies when the study of power and interests will do the job? The Davos class is always extremely small relative to the society and its members naturally have money – sometimes inherited, sometimes self-made.  More importantly,  they have their own social institutions – clubs, top schools for their kids, neighbourhoods, corporate and charity boards, holiday destinations, membership organizations, exclusive fashionable social events, and so on – all of which help to buttress social cohesion and collective power. They run our major institutions, including the media, know exactly what they want and are much more united and better organized than we are.

But this dominant class has weaknesses too; one is that it has an ideology but virtually no ideas and no imagination.  Their programme since the 1970s, usually called ‘neoliberalism’, is based on freedom for financial innovation, no matter where it may lead, on privatization, deregulation, and unlimited growth; on the supposedly free, self-regulating market and free trade that gave birth to the casino economy.  This economy has failed spectacularly and is now thoroughly discredited, at least in the public mind.

Most people ask for no further proof; they can see that the system works neither for them, nor for their families and friends, nor for their country.  Many also recognize that it’s bad for the immense majority of the earth’s people and for the earth itself.   The sole response of  the Davos Class is to keep the old world order ticking over a bit longer, with a free pass for all the institutions which created the crisis to begin with.  It won’t work, not even on their own terms.

I believe that ‘we’ – the decent, honest, so-called  ordinary  people I meet all the time – have the numbers (and thus also the votes) on our side. We have the imagination, the ideas and the rational proposals as well as most of the skills and the scholarship – meaning we know what needs to be done and how to do it. We belong to a huge variety of formal and informal organizations struggling for change in this or that institution, this or that domain. Collectively, we even have money. What we do not have is the unity or the organization of the adversary, and we all too often lack the consciousness of our own potential power.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States and the Indignados and others in Europe have identified the huge inequalities that prevail in our societies as “the 1 percent” and the “99 percent” that  roughly coincide with the Davos Class and the rest of us, although the former is closer to one-tenth of 1 percent.  In other words, they have identified the adversary, the class that maintains a rotten status quo.   Our task now is to build a vast coalition of all those who agree with the diagnosis, all those who want to fight for their future but also for a fairer society, a better world, a healthier planet.  Such alliances, which must become at once local, national and transnational, won’t happen by magic—they require conversations, debates and the concrete recognition that whatever our minor differences of opinion or emphasis, we are all on the same side.

If not us, who?  If not now, when?

 

Footnotes:

i Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book III, Chapter IV, p. 512 in the Pelican Classic edition, Andrew Skinner, ed. armondsworth & New York, 1974


Photo credits: Copyright World Economic Forum www.swiss-image.ch/Photoby Hanspeter Baertschi

 

TNI fellow, President of the Board of TNI and honorary president of ATTAC-France [Association for Taxation of Financial Transaction to Aid Citizens]

Susan George is one of TNI’s most renowned fellows for her long-term and ground-breaking analysis of global issues. Author of fourteen widely translated books, she describes her work in a cogent way that has come to define TNI: “The job of the responsible social scientist is first to uncover these forces [of wealth, power and control], to write about them clearly, without jargon… and finally..to take an advocacy position in favour of the disadvantaged, the underdogs, the victims of injustice.”

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One Response to The Davos Class, Susan George | Transnational Institute

  1. GuanManTinTan says:

    “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

    Who is “us”?

    Your analysis is biased because you seem to have a blind spot

    There is “us”, humanity, and there we can have a global view, an all-including analysis and prepare a campaign of the 99% to include and assimilate the 1%.

    There is “us”, the left, and then we just continue the fight between the red 49,5% against the blue 49,5%, while the 1% laughs at us and once again collects the spoils.

    There was a very good reason to start the indignados movement as an apartisan and asindical horizontal movement… to be able to include everyone without being poisoned either by dogmatic extreme right or dogmatic extreme left. In fact, to humanistically include everybody but those who refuse to include the other.

    But left is spoiling everything once again… they have to try and co-opt any social movement because they need their damned final victory.

    There is no “All for ourselves and nothing for other people” inherent, hereditary DNA, there is only acquired logic. Acquired logic applied to the most sacred of tasks, survival.

    There are only two basic survival strategies:

    1) The individual one
    2) The collective one

    The trouble starts because when mankind started making this choice there was plenty of space on Earth for everyone, and both strategies were equally possible in their prehistoric setup. As populations started to grow and the complexity of interhuman relations increased, troubles started.

    This, because once you have developed the theorethical framework of the individual survival strategy to its bitter end… you come up with a relative security as far as survival is concerned, when you control NOT LESS THAN HALF THE RESOURCES OF THE EARTH. That is the first point when you can theorethically relax a bit. Indeed, once you control half the earths resources you can tell yourself that even the whole rest of humanity together, forming one single coalition, can not have enough resources to form an opposition that threatens your survival.

    The logical trap is as easy as that. People choose their survival strategy (one of two) way before they were able to understand that if they choose the individual one they finally would have to try to control half of earths resources, and once they get aware… it is too late to change because optimising survival is our core business, that is where we buy the time we need to try to understand who we are and what our world is. As long as one single individual insists on using the individual strategy… none of the others can stop using it without giving up optimal performance as far as survival goes, and betray his holiest goal.

    That is why many unconnected elites are relentlessly being competence to one another, and some try to band together to get to that 50% of resources control (NWO any?).

    In their logic, elites do not even think about the people as if they were the enemy, they are the ones they have to care for, each trying to get 50% of all resources under his control to serve their people. Even if to prevent their people being crushed by another one whose elite achieves to control more than 50% of available resources… they have to starve them to death to be the ones that control if not 50% of available resources, at least as much as possible, because the one that controls the most is the one against which it is least easy to form a successful coalition.

    Because of their simple logic, there can come no solution to this problem from within the elites, other than to try for NWO.

    It is up to those who think from outside this logic to find way to dismantle the suicidal race of the elites.

    I’ll tell why left is not up to the task another time (if you haven’t figured out yourself by now).

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