If the annual gathering of world leaders, corporate chieftains, and economists in secluded Davos in the Swiss Alps is a good barometer of the global economic outlook, then the reading this year is gloomy.
The European debt crisis dominates the conversation, of course. But the outlook everywhere seems to suggest a global slowdown. "The global recovery is threatened by intensifying stains in the euro area and fragilities elsewhere,” concluded a report from the International Monetary Fund, which cut its 2012 forecast of world growth from 4 percent to 3.25 percent.
Beneath the gloom lies a broader worry among many participants that capitalism is failing to provide the widespread economic benefits that it used to.
"Capitalism, in its current form, has no place in the world around us," Al Jazeera quoted economist Klaus Schwab as saying. Mr. Schwab is founder of the World Economic Forum. The WEF's theme this year – The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models – may be adding to the angst.
"I think we have three to four years in the West to improve the economic model that we have," said David Rubenstein, billionaire and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, according to the AFP news agency. "If we don't do that soon, I think we've lost the game."
From Jan. 25 to 29, more than 1,600 chief executive officers, 40 world leaders, and others will talk and meet to explore potential solutions to this systemic crisis.
"We must redesign the model. We must reset it. Stop the greed," Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, AFP reports. "Unless employers and workers sit down with governments, the system will continue to fail." Burrow said,
Traditionally, the remote alpine ski resort keeps away voices of dissent. Not this year. For a few days, the luxurious hotel complexes that stretch the picturesque Landwasser high valley, will have to coexist with the igloos that a small number of Occupy protesters have constructed.
"In the last 42 years, I've never seen so much snow in Davos," WEF founder Klaus Schwab tweeted.
"Perfect snow to build igloos!" Occupy Davos protesters tweeted back, according to The Huffington Post.
"We believe that the leaders at World Economic Forum are just trying to implement new systems to maximize their profits, not to help the world," Amadeus Thiemann, a Zurich engineer who traveled to Davos to protest corporate greed, told USA Today.
The protest is resonating with some of the billionaires attending Davos. Bloomberg reports that a half-dozen of the approximately 70 billionaire attendees, interviewed before the conference, underlined the need to tackle the problem.
“Many who will be in Davos are the people being blamed for economic inequalities,” Vikas Oberoi, director of one of India’s biggest real estate developers, told Bloomberg. “I hope it’s not just about glamour and people having a big party.”
George Soros also “recognizes that income inequality is a problem” and is supportive of tax increases for the wealthy, said his spokesman, Michael Vachon.
Launched in 1971, the WEF is "committed to improving the state of the world" by engaging politicians, businesspeople, academics and other prominent international figures to address pressing global issues like terrorism, water supply, HIV/AIDS, as well as furthering dialogue between the West and Islam.