Whatever you may think about Davos, it is truly amazing what a spectrum of different ideas across a wide range of different fields you are exposed to at the annual World Economic Forum gathering. This year did not disappoint in this regard.
Relating to HKEX’s business, I attended a host of presentations and discussions relating to financial markets, technology, sustainable metals sourcing, China, corporate governance and geopolitics. In addition, there were a large number of meetings with business partners and customers, out of which we have a good few interesting follow-ups. Relating to more personal interests, I also had the opportunity to attend some fascinating sessions on healthcare, education and social mobility.
One noticeable shift from last year was that, on a number of social issues such as climate change and inequality, the tone has shifted from one of genteel persuasion to one of indignant frustration, and even anger. Perhaps this should not have been surprising, as it simply reflects the sentiment on the streets around the world – that we can no longer afford to wait to address many pressing global issues.
What was surprising, however, was that even in a setting such as Davos, progress is often impeded by a polarization of viewpoints and a lack of willingness to compromise. A case in point was at a workshop on social mobility, where there was widespread agreement that more had to be done to improve in areas such as access to educational opportunities for those from less advantaged backgrounds, but where some in the group argued vehemently against increased taxation that might be required to pay for it.
In any disagreement, there are always at least two sides to an argument and the best path to resolution tends to require an acknowledgment of the validity of different perspectives. It’s a little like trying to lose weight – even if you start to exercise, you are unlikely to see any real results unless you also control your diet. To help raise up those at the bottom of society, it is likely that those at the top will need to exercise some restraint. On climate issues, there is little doubt that humans will have to adjust their consumption habits, but it’s probably not realistic to expect people to give up air travel or beef overnight – a combination of lifestyle adjustments and new technologies will need to play a part.
The world has some big problems to solve. In order to do so, there will need to be more give and take.