At Davos, rising income inequality worries some billionaires too

Some 2,500 of the world's elite descended upon Davos, Switzerland for the 45th World Economic Forum. What was on their minds? 

Laurent Gillieron/AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, speaks next to German Klaus Schwab, right, founder and president of the World Economic Forum, WEF, during a panel session of the 45th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday. The meeting runs from Jan. 21 through Jan. 24.

What is there to discuss when you're in a ski lodge at Davos amongst a handful of the most powerful people in the world?

Does one ask Pharrell Williams about his role as a coach on "The Voice"? Or perhaps query Egyptian leader Gen. Abdel Sisi if he is partial to alpine or cross country skiing? 

They are both among the 2,500 people at the 45th Annual World Economic Forum where industry leaders, politicians, diplomats, philanthropists, and artists  discuss world trade and other pressing global issues. Williams is in attendance with former Vice President Al Gore to promote their Live Earth 2015 Concert to raise awareness for climate change. Mr. Sisi is taking in the forum as an unofficial coming-out party in front of leaders of multinational organizations and other governments, according to the Guardian. 

And a least one American billionaire was in Davos this week to talk about an unstable future if the economy is not restructured. Jeff Greene, who amassed his fortune in the US real estate market, raised concerns about low-paying American jobs when he spoke at the World Economic Forum, according to  Bloomberg. 

Mr. Greene warned that the United States faces an unprecedented job crisis that will cause social unrest and could spur a major change in American politics. “I’m remarkably long for my level of pessimism,” he told Bloomberg. “Our economy is in deep trouble. We need to be honest with ourselves. We’ve had a realistic level of job destruction, and those jobs aren’t coming back.”

Greene went onto say that even if some jobs that were outsourced made it back to US shores, they would likely be performed by robots or computer programs.

This year's gathering in the Swiss alps comes at a time when income inequality has reached its highest levels ever. An Oxfam report says that 80 people now control as much wealth as 3.5 billion people, or about half the world's population. The Oxfam report concluded that if current trends continue, the top one percent of the world's earners will own more wealth than the other 99 percent by next year.

The world's elite arrived in Switzerland in some 1,500 private jets, according to CNN, to discuss slow global growth that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned could cause great social upheaval in the coming years.

The IMF pointed to China's growth slowing and the sharp drop in oil prices that could pull Russia into a deep recession as indicators that global output will decline, according to the Guardian. The forum comes at a time when less than half of the global population trusts their governments, according to the Edelman Trust barometer.

But even as the American and European middle class erodes, consistent and brisk economic growth elsewhere in the world is creating a higher standard of living and a new global middle class is taking form, according to a report from Reuters. By the year 2030, 4.9 billion people will make up this new middle class, up from 2 billion today.

The swell of the global middle is attributed to the expectation that hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese will be lifted out of poverty in the next 20 years, according to the Reuters projection. 

The Davos gathering concludes today. 

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