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 47.

    45.Have your say Rejected

    "I don't believe humanity is ready for Communism..."

    I don't believe humanity was ever ready for Capitalism either. Fair point BTW about Communism being stateless

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Capitalism would be great if it actually existed. What we have is NOT true capitalism. You cannot have true capitalism while governments are able to be influenced by the highest bidders, while insider trading is common practice and while governments are bailing out failing corporations and banks. That is NOT capitalism and it never has been! Bill Gates needs to wake up and stop being so naive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I-330...I don't believe humanity is ready for Communism, it won't be for many centuries imo. There is no state in Communism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Of course Bill Gates likes capitalism - he has done rather well out of it after all.

    However, if you have a disability, serious illness or have never had even a slight advantage in life then you probably think capitalism stinks.

    The USA is particularly poor in this respect as any sort of weakness is seen as a personal self inflicted problem!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    If Bill Gates wants to rid the world of diseases and viruses why doesn't he start with his own operating system. Obvious really - I'll get my coat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    35. Whitefall
    Did you not read about the poverty and death under communism? I refuse to even give an inch to that tyranny, lest they take a mile!

    You refuse to give an inch to Communism? It's 2012, man. Only two types of people have any reason to be afraid of the 'Commie menace'. South Koreans, and the tin-foil-hat brigade. Let's hope for your sake that you are South Korean.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Yet another talking shop, will cost millions and leave a big carbon footprint. As usual it will achieve nothing. What we need is action from a real leader with vision and authority who can galvanise others in a common cause. I don't know of such a person, but I do know that big international conferences, forums and committees never really change anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    39.Have your say Rejected

    Communism is an ideal and as with all ideals they're impossible to realise in reality. Give it up comrade, the Revolution failed, game over, we're never going to have anything close to a true Communist state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Whitefall, how would you know Communism is a foul smelling manure? Have you or for that matter any of us lived in a true Communist...Country? I dont recall any modern day Communist....places...USSR was Socialist, as is/was China. Closest thing to Communism is how early man lived.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    It's very hard to begin to capitalise in the UK what with everything being so expensive in the first place. The only people who are making money are the ones clever enough to use new daft legislation to their advantage to obtain stocks for next to free, then re-selling at a premium.

  • Comment number 37.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I agree with Mr Gates, Capitalism is great and we have gained much by it... but it seems that people can't be trusted with such a system so something is going to have to change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @31 Fred Schuhmacher

    You're comparing manures to find the least foul smelling manure, rather than comparing the perfectly excellent smelling bottle of perfume (capitalism) and comparing it with the foul stench of manure as a whole (communism).

    Did you not read about the poverty and death under communism? I refuse to even give an inch to that tyranny, lest they take a mile!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Capitalism is an unsustainable system that relies on the poor - it’s like fossil fuels – the day will come when the planet runs out of the raw material. With capitalism the system crumbles when the supply of really poor people who can be exploited by the rich dries up. That is the process we are going through now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    since when has capitalism protected anyone but the rich?
    Since when has a person had protection of their property when the rich can come in and compulsorily buy said property at a fraction of its real market value?
    There has never been real capitalism EVER only the rich pulling the wool over foolish peoples eyes while they stole what was yours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    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?

    + I think it might take a bit of a pasting with re-emerging nationalism, looking at what's happening as nations respond to stiffer economic competition.

  • Comment number 31.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Capitalism has failed many times over. Everytime it fails it's us, the poor people who suffer. It is a disgrace. It's a system which keeps power in the hands of the wealthy, it is not a democratic system, as big business now crontrols Governments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @24 The Ace Face said: "Capitalism doesn't involve forced work?"

    In a capitalist society where individual rights are recognised and protected, the initiation of physical force is necessarily banished from human relationships.

    The "forced work" you speak of is not the force of men, but the force of the fact of reality that demands that you be a productive individual, lest you starve and die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    It amazes me fools still think we have capitalism we dont we have greed and corruption. Not reward based on risks overcome, increases in company profits or benefits to company and society. Its why fat cats have got upto 50% pay rises this year when clearly companies have not been increasing business they have just been laying off to make the books look good.
    And as for the small guy no chance.


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