Transformation the great

As this summit is shaping up as a debate about the future rather than a reaction to crises of the past decade, there is a fundamental area of tension for Davos. For more than 40 years, the World Economic Forum has reflected a world order dominated by elites of the developed world, championing a system ...

By , the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

As this summit is shaping up as a debate about the future rather than a reaction to crises of the past decade, there is a fundamental area of tension for Davos. For more than 40 years, the World Economic Forum has reflected a world order dominated by elites of the developed world, championing a system of globalization -- a system that has been driven and informed by their values and priorities and their economic and political frameworks.

That global system no longer functions. It has been crumbling slowly, and the events of 9/11 and the financial crisis distracted us from this overarching trend, decades in the making. So at Davos, the world's former architects will do their best to repair an old car and add a new paint job: they will seek models that they hope will still allow their values, priorities, and institutions to hold sway. But in a world with so many important global players with such diverse values and systems, the world will need new models altogether. If and when they come, in order to reflect a very different balance of power, they will have to be a significant departure from the system of today.

This is an era of growing pains (hello, #GZero) where the old system doesn't work, but those in a position of authority have a stake in dragging their feet. To the extent that reality is resisted, new models are likely to be more haphazard, less effective, and take longer to emerge. It's been extremely interesting to watch this debate play out already at Davos this year. I'm going to do my best to keep it at the forefront of discussion.

As this summit is shaping up as a debate about the future rather than a reaction to crises of the past decade, there is a fundamental area of tension for Davos. For more than 40 years, the World Economic Forum has reflected a world order dominated by elites of the developed world, championing a system of globalization — a system that has been driven and informed by their values and priorities and their economic and political frameworks.

That global system no longer functions. It has been crumbling slowly, and the events of 9/11 and the financial crisis distracted us from this overarching trend, decades in the making. So at Davos, the world’s former architects will do their best to repair an old car and add a new paint job: they will seek models that they hope will still allow their values, priorities, and institutions to hold sway. But in a world with so many important global players with such diverse values and systems, the world will need new models altogether. If and when they come, in order to reflect a very different balance of power, they will have to be a significant departure from the system of today.

This is an era of growing pains (hello, #GZero) where the old system doesn’t work, but those in a position of authority have a stake in dragging their feet. To the extent that reality is resisted, new models are likely to be more haphazard, less effective, and take longer to emerge. It’s been extremely interesting to watch this debate play out already at Davos this year. I’m going to do my best to keep it at the forefront of discussion.

So what can we expect? We’ll see folks at Davos who are looking for a new way of reaching the same goals — namely, globalization, open markets, and democracy. But the retention of the same goals will prove an obstacle in and of itself. The real question is going to be what values — and ultimately which of these fundamental pillars — is the developed world prepared to compromise on, or even sacrifice, to gain sufficient global cooperation. Some of this is about cash, on issues from climate change (the clash over footing the bill between developed and developing countries) to competitiveness in the eurozone (as the core and periphery struggle over the nature of moves toward fiscal union). But mostly, the balance of power is about the powerbrokers themselves: determining who makes the rules, who sets the agenda, and who prioritizes.

So as this overarching trend plays out, what does it spell for the foreseeable future? Global governance will continue to dissolve — and nations and institutions will pick up some of the slack on a regional level. More on the rise of regionalism to come. Stay tuned…

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer

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