Davos season is a beautiful time of year when rich, powerful people gather in a Swiss mountain town to talk about Big Ideas. Ensconced in this familiar backslapping environment, they also occasionally tell us how they really feel about some of the most pressing issues facing humanity like rising inequality and the climate crisis.
I look at these things and see how the two are interconnected with a capitalist system that links fossil fuels with endless growth and governments increasingly untethered from citizens’ needs and beholden to enriching the already rich while stoking culture wars to keep people divided. The people have benefited from this system, surprisingly, do not see that. And their comments at Davos make it clear they have every intention of continuing the culture wars while offering half fixes (“half” might be generous tbh).
Let’s start with Steve Mnuchin, the current Treasury Secretary and future Bond villain. This the brain genius that insists the Trump tax cuts are good and will pay for themselves actually despite robust evidence pointing to the contrary.
On Thursday, he took a shot at teen activist Greta Thunberg saying that “after she goes and studies economics in college, she can go back and explain that to us.” I guess “that” is climate change and frankly, she’s done a pretty good job explaining it to the world. The parts of Thunberg’s speeches that make headlines are when she roasts bankers for being sociopaths that don’t care about their children, but she also devotes huge chunks of her time on the global stage to correctly explaining the science behind her warnings (she also torched Mnuchin). And she also rightly notes the cost of inaction is much higher and more devastating than the cost of action, something backed up by [checks notes] thousands of economists.
Meanwhile the Trump administration has shown a very real failure to grasp the threat of climate change and is actively pursuing policies to make it worse. As it just so happens, I teach a class in the spring on this very topic. Steve, you have an open invite to attend if you’d like to learn some things and then go back and explain that to your Davos buds and deadbeat boss.
Mnuchin is far from the only rich fella going off at Davos. Outgoing CEO of BP, Bob Dudley, told CNBC that Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “have a completely unrealistic idea of the complexity of the global energy system” while shooting down the Green New Deal. He also noted the world needs “less emissions, but all forms of energy.”
Call me crazy, but it’s pretty straightforward that fossil fuel companies like BP have spread climate denial and shot down climate policies while reaping huge profits. While Big Oil wants to pour money into carbon capture, there’s currently no technology proven at scale to make fossil fuels carbon neutral. And that’s to say nothing of the impact they have on the environment when, say, they spill into the ocean and poison life and destroy livelihoods. Nobody is saying ending their use is complex given how these companies have latched onto the world’s economy like parasites. But the reason for disentangling them are pretty clear!
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, also popped off about socialism “eroding society” on CNBC (bless business news). He also said of millennials who are opening their hearts to socialism after growing up in a predatory capitalist system that “I honestly don’t think they understand what socialism is.” He also raised the boogeyman of Venezuela to show how socialist governments can poorly allocate resources (while failing to note there are massive issues with corruption and repression tied up with poor governance and not necessarily socialism). Funny as our current system has done a pretty shitty job with income inequality. U.S. inequality is the highest it’s ever been. Inequality has also risen globally and climate change is one of the reasons (and it will only make things worse).
In related news, JPMorgan Chase is the world’s single largest purveyor of loans for the fossil fuel projects driving the crisis. Between 2016 and 2018 the bank Dimon leads kicked fossil fuel companies $196 billion to finance the planet’s destruction. Again, seems like a pretty poor allocation of resources!
It’s been pretty clear for a while that the capitalists are not coming to save society or the Earth. The beauty of their Davos ramblings is at least it’s become crystal clear what the plan is.