Davos 2012: Capitalism debate sets WEF agenda

World Economic Forum logo This year's World Economic Forum in Davos takes place amid a gloomy economy

This year's World Economic Forum (WEF) has kicked off with a debate on capitalism, which Bill Gates labelled a "phenomenal system".

"We're going through a tough period, but there is no other system that has improved humanity," the Microsoft founder told the BBC.

The future of the world economy is high on the agenda as some of world's most powerful people gather in Davos.

They meet annually in the Swiss resort to discuss the state of the world.

The WEF comes amid sluggish growth in the West versus soaring growth rates in emerging economies such as China and Brazil, and uprisings and protests across the globe.

The eurozone debt crisis also continues to disturb financial markets.

Before Davos, WEF founder Klaus Schwab had said: "Capitalism in its current form no longer fits the world around us."

Speaking in London ahead of his arrival in Davos, Mr Gates told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that "the world is better off" because of capitalism.

"I think capitalism is a phenomenal system because it has generated so much innovation - the chance I had as a young boy to start Microsoft, hire my friends," he said.

"Other systems don't allow that to happen."

First debate

It was fitting that these concerns of the future of the world economy were reflected in the opening debate: "Is 20th-century capitalism failing 21st-century society?"

Start Quote

Has capitalism got a future? Is it fit for the 21st Century? And if it has and is, how must capitalism change?”

End Quote

Referencing Winston Churchill, one of the panellists, David Rubenstein, co-founder of the private equity Carlyle Group, said: "Capitalism may be the worst form of systems, except for every other system."

The chief of the International Trade Union Confederation disagreed. Sharan Burrow said "we've lost a moral compass" and warned of social unrest.

She called for companies globally to invest 2-3% of real investment in the creation of jobs, or what she termed the "productive economy".

A distinction was also made between the economies of the US and Europe - dubbed "laissez-faire capitalism" - and state capitalism, where the governments of nations such as China and Russia take a big role in creating jobs.

Later, amid the heaviest snow in Davos in 66 years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will provide the keynote address that will officially begin the WEF, scheduled for 16:30 BST.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    There are no free markets in our current system, there is very little competition, high levels of collusion, so no, I would say that what we are all living with right now is not capitalism. It's not socialism either, it's simply corrupt to the core.

  • Comment number 26.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    @19 UKcerberus said: "If capitalism was so wonderful, why is it in such a bad state right now?"

    The West is in such a bad state right now precisely because we don't have capitalism, and because we instead have "mixed economies" which lean and are trending closer towards communism than capitalism. This is just the truth, as much as it pains people to hear it. The truth must be told.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    15.Mr Max

    "A damn sight better than if we laboured (or more likely, forced to labour) under any of the other systems available."

    Capitalism doesn't involve forced work? I'll tell that to the jobcentre staff when they begin to clamp down on people claiming benefits and force them to do unwilling voluntary work by threatening to stop their money so they starve if they don't comply.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Capitalism has many faults but the authoritarian society intiated by the Labour Government, its drive for irrational equality and top down approach to race relations and most social issues, has to be abandoned. Somewhere in capitalism is an idea of human freedom. It has been buried by politicians and their cronies, but it needs to be released.Governments have not cured any ills of capitalism

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    20.The Ace Face
    Bill Gates would say that wouldn't he? What with him being one of the ricest people in the world and all.

    Nice bit of irony, that. +1

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Those who make over a certain percentage profit pa of their turnover should be forced to 'donate' it to social projects to improve society and the World. Not too low to put their shareholders off from investing, but low enough to restrain their more selfish impulses. Or all companies above a certain size are forced to spend a percentage of their profits,no matter how high, on good causes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Bill Gates would say that wouldn't he? What with him being one of the ricest people in the world and all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The propaganda continues. If capitalism was so wonderful, why is it in such a bad state right now? Could it be that the "greed is good" philosophy of capitalism has caused the problem? No? It'll be us ordinary not-incredibly-wealthy folk whose fault it is. It's always us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    White man speak with forked tongue ! Good idea to evolve capitalism now let's do something practical about it shall we !

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    "The future of the world economy is high on the agenda as some of world's most powerful people gather in Davos."
    The same stupid most powerful people that got us into the eurozone crisis to start with. Maybe they should cancel all the parties and dinners, just put them in a room and don't let them out until it's sorted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @11 LeftieAgitator

    The right to property is an individual right since the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.

    Without property rights, no other rights can be practiced. The right to property is hence the only implementation of individual rights.

    Capitalism is the most moral social system, since it recognises and protects individual rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "2. Jenny

    Millionnaires discussing capitalism - can't imagine what the outcome will be for the other 99.999% of us?"


    A damn sight better than if we laboured (or more likely, forced to labour) under any of the other systems available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Can't wait for the fair, unbiased debate that will result from people talking about a system that was to their benefit...

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I believe free trade is generally a good thing, built up over the millennia & embedded in human nature.

    However, in modern times what we have is not free trade but monopolisation where the small guy effectively gets swallowed up & spat out.

    The big corporates have too much political power with politicians all on their gravy train payroll.

    This is not good for society & needs to be challenged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Everybody likes capitalism, nobody's invented a better system yet. It's unfettered, irresponsible, greedy, unregulated, overpaid, thievery from "Free market" capitalism that causes the problems. Governments simply MUST intervene to stop excesses. If somebody leaves a company or moves to another country another will take their place. That's the bit that they don't tell you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The framers of the US Bill of Rights changed the preamble from life, liberty and the pursuit of property, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It sounded nobler. They also added the clause about no man shall be deprived of his property without due process, to satisfy the property owners in the slave states. A slave was a man but also property.
    Capitalism is essentially amoral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Capitalism encourages & rewards individual ability risk taking & hard work, This is something other systems can only emulate through co-ercion

    Were capitalism has gone wrong is that some people (bankers) have been rewarded when they effectively took no risks resulting in unnecessary risk & social loss

    Solution, make sure all the risk is borne by the inviduals & companies who stand to gain

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I am a firm believer that companies exist to make profit and, if we are to think about decent earned money, profit will also mean long term strategy, sustainability, transparency and corporate governance. More and more, the corporate world is realizing that sustainability means long-term success, lower operational costs and profitability, let alone good PR.
    Read the article at http://bit.ly/zkjzKA

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The dictionary definition of Capitalism totally misses the root cause of Capitalism, which is the recognition and protection of the "individual rights" to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. Any society which does not recognise and protect those rights is inherently NOT Capitalist. No society has ever truly recognised and protected those rights, but America came the closest.


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