Moisés Naim: With inflation & low trust in democracy, Latin America faces perfect storm for nasty politics
How much power does the World Economic Forum in Davos still have? For Moisés Naim. distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, not much, and this year's leitmotif is confusion. Why? "We are dealing with uncertain situations that have no precedent," he tells Ian Bremmer in a Global Stage interview. Naim believes that in the near future the locus of power will shift from geography to artificial intelligence, which will have immense consequences for how leaders wield power — and that's a double-edged sword. And what about Latin America's future? He sees a"very dangerous convergence of inflation and disappointment with democracy that could result in "a perfect storm to create nasty politics" in the region.
Ian Bremmer: Moises Naim, you always talk about power and standing here in the World Economic Forum, I want to ask you how much power do you think this group really has today and how's it moving?
Moisés Naím: Well, it is always easy to overstate the power here and what happens. This is a meeting in which there is a lot of interactions, there's a lot of conversations, but it's not the center point in which decisions are made. The essence of power emanating of meetings like this has to do with ideas and the clarity of ideas. And the dominant feeling that I have gotten from the meeting that this confusion reigns. Confusion is the leitmotif of this meeting. People don't know what is happening. A very famous Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega said in 1939, he saw what was coming in Europe. And he said, "We don't know what is happening to us and that is exactly what is happening to us." I think that captures very well, the mood here, in which everybody feels and knows that there are these massive changes of uncertain consequences. And that then generates the anxiety, the doubts about everything and that, of course, erodes power.
Ian Bremmer: The last time there was this level of crisis at the World Economic Forum was 2009. It was right in the teeth of the global financial crisis and people didn't necessarily know how we were going to come out of it, but they all knew what the tools were. They all understood the nature of the crisis. This time around, it feels very different. It's more diffuse and they don't understand how to respond.
Moisés Naím: And it's more without precedent. The 2009 financial crisis came in the heels of many financial crisis around the world. So the world was equipped with institutions and policies and ideas, as you say, how to deal with a financial collapse. That's not the case here. We are dealing with uncertain situations that have no precedent. And that also adds to the confusion that I just mentioned.
Ian Bremmer: So if we look forward five years time, where is the locus of power going to be that will surprise us? What institutions? What geographies?
Moisés Naím: In the future power will continue to be concentrated in algorithms and leaders and their followers. That trial is going to stay with us. What we don't know is what are the sector anchors of that or the geographical anchors. But artificial intelligence is going to have consequences for power, as will new kinds of leaders and new kinds of followers that expect and demand from the political leaders, things that have not been common until now.
Ian Bremmer: Now, do you think that continued development in artificial intelligence is necessarily a centralizing aspect of consolidating aspect of power?
Moisés Naím: It's both. It's a technology and all technologies are double-edged swords. Technologies can be very good for some things and very bad for others. There's no doubt that artificial intelligence is going to be a technology that's going to touch all sectors and transform them in very surprising ways. And we are going to be surprised by the kinds of places where artificial intelligence will pop up and this change completely what we knew about that place.
Ian Bremmer: One other point, Latin America is virtually not on the agenda this year, part of the world you know very, very well. If you could insert Latin America on the agenda in a big way, what would you want to be discussed here?
Moisés Naím: The very dangerous convergence of inflation and disappointment with democracy. The world is going to face inflation for the first time in several ... almost a generation. We're living with a generation of people that don't know what inflation is and the inflation is coming. And it's coming at the same time that there is a lot of disappointment with the performance of democracy. That's a perfect storm to create nasty politics
Ian Bremmer: And which country that's a strong democracy right now, might not be in a few years in Latin America.
Moisés Naím: I don't know.
Ian Bremmer: You don't want to make-
Moisés Naím: I don't want to make that assessment there.
Ian Bremmer: ... that assessment there. Did you like the fact that the Americans were reaching out to the Venezuelans on the energy front?
Moisés Naím: I hope that something like that happens, but not in the way it's happening, I think it's being managed in a way that is a hazard, not well thought through, and ineffective. I hope that the current ways of thinking about how to deal with Venezuela at the White House, at the State Department will be revised, reviewed, and tossed and other ways of engaging will be found.