Clouds Over Davos

Clouds Over Davos

Every year, heads of state, top corporate executives, and thought leaders gather for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Three big storm clouds hang over this year's summit—providing a fitting backdrop for the global elite to mull the challenges now roiling societies around the world.


First, domestic politics has forced a number of world leaders to abandon their Davos plans. These high-profile absences speak to a broader trend: the tenets of open borders, free capital flows, and global competition long favored by the Davos crowd have undermined political stability.

Here's a look at who is not attending and why:

  • US President Donald Trump canceled his trip as a government shutdown over a border wall intended to slow the flow of migrants across the southern US border enters its thirty-second day.
  • UK Prime Minister Theresa May is still dealing with the aftermath of a failed Brexit vote last week. In voting for Brexit, Britons rejected the idea that interconnectedness is an undeniable force for good.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron continues to grapple with ongoing Yellow Vest protests, a movement of middle class anger and angst that reflects the contribution of hyper-globalization to increasing national inequality.
  • And Chinese President Xi Jinping opened a meeting on Monday of Communist Party officials from across the country on the management of economic risks, as new data showed China's economy growing at its slowest pace since 1990 (see graphic below). Xi is under growing political pressure at home as he contends with US protectionism.

Second, the global economic outlook is starting to sour, in part due to the US-China trade conflict. Disruptive competition rather than productive cooperation is now the name of the game.

  • The IMF announced yesterday that the world is expected to grow at a slower clip over the next two years.

Third, world leaders are grappling with a slew of deepening structural challenges. Inequality, climate change, and technological disruption are among the topics that the decision-makers gathering in Switzerland will struggle to get to grips with this week.

  • On inequality, a new report from Oxfam – released to coincide with Davos – shows that the world's 26 richest people own as much as half the planet's people. Addressing such large disparities may require coordinated action at the global level – some, for example, have proposed a wealth tax. But despite their profound impact, there's little sense of urgency to act on any of the issues.

In Davos, the party goes on. But each passing year leaves us with less confidence that openness to the free flow of ideas, information, people, money goods and services is destined to continue.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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