(Traducción Celina Castro)
1. What is the World Economic Forum (WEF)?
The WEF or Davos Forum was created in 1971 by Klaus Schwab, one of the most important theorists of the fourth industrial revolution in its capitalist expression. The WEF defines itself as a non-governmental organization and has developed a profile as a body for strengthening the logic of the world market and the social dynamics that support it.
For some years now, it has convened a global assembly at the end of January, in which the state of the economy and the prospects for the next twelve months are analyzed. This assembly is attended by political and business leaders, government figures, intellectuals, economists and specialists in the technological field.
The Davos Forum is today the privileged space of an important sector of transnational capital that promotes a close link between the acceleration of scientific-technological innovation and the mode of production. Its annual conclusions allow knowing and understanding the tasks of cognitive capitalism in each historical period.
On this occasion, the Davos Forum met between January 17 and 21, 2022 and its debates are available on the website of this institution.
- 2. Absences of concern
The importance of this event should arouse the interest of study and analysis of the progressive, anti-capitalist and left-wing sectors, however, its absence is notable not only in the live and direct sessions, but also in the analyzes that are made about the state of capitalism.
For example, in the session on trade and supply chains, one of the main problems of current capitalism, only 44 people followed him live, where the Latin American presence was minimal and almost non-existent of critical theories in education.
One does not know if it is a theological reminiscence of the fear of going to visit the rings of hell, the comfort of the certainty of understanding the system in its period of «imperialism, the highest phase of capitalism» or the triumph of the pragmatism of the concrete, expressed in the praxis of territorialized resistance that considers the international dimension secondary in the construction of oppressions. The truth is that an important part of the left prefers to consume anti-establishment analyzes rather than going straight to the source and analyze with their own head.
Even more worrying is the precarious assistance of the education union and trade union leadership, one of the sectors most impacted by the Davos agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic and which is in the crosshairs of the digital transition that underpins the global capitalist elite.
The effectiveness of anti-capitalist resistance depends largely on knowledge and understanding in real time, of the plans and programs that capital builds, for this reason this phenomenon deserves the attention of the sectors that oppose its realization.
- 3. The agenda
I am going to “telegraph” some conclusions of the 2022 edition of the WEF with the intention of ordering some ideas and helping to link the analysis to the resistance, in the current stage of the market logic. Certainly capitalism is in crisis, but this does not imply that it will fall or will generate a «natural» evolution towards another mode of society. The condition of crisis is immanent to capitalism which does not necessarily imply its weakening. What is unquestionable is that its permanence over time fosters barbarism in different expressions.
However, capitalism has an enormous capacity to absorb and co-opt emerging agendas, which leads it to subordinate them and make them functional for its support. Hence the importance of its permanent study.
In this quote from global capitalism these key conclusions stand out:
- 3.1. China unveiled
At the international level, we still have a left that searches for arguments to attenuate China’s capitalist transition and its consolidation as an emerging empire of a new type. It has even become customary to hear leaders of the so-called progressivism refer to China as a lifesaver against US imperialism, which shows supine ignorance or the intention of generating disinformation functional to their permanence in power.
It is no longer about the results of the research on the cultural revolution made by Roderick MacFarquhar and Mchael Schoenhals (2009), the critical reading of the process and results of the China-US negotiations (Nixon-Kissinger – Mao – Deng) of the seventies of the 20th century as a starting point for the capitalist restoration to the rhythm and logic of Chinese society, Den Rong’s memoirs on Den Xiaoping and the cultural revolution (2006) where the dialectic of the relationship between Mao and Deng is shown along the way of opening to the logic of the market, nor the ECLAC studies (2013) on Chinese investments in Latin America, but of directly listening and reading the leader of the Asian nation.
It is Xi Jimping himself (2022) who expressed at the Davos Forum (2022) “we must eliminate barriers, not erect walls. We must open, not close. We must seek integration, not decoupling. This is the way to build an open world economy. We must guide the reforms of the global governance system with the principle of fairness and justice, and uphold the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its core”.
China is committed to globalization, the market and the rules of trade governed by the post-cold war capitalist world apparatus that is the WTO-The Davos Forum shows a China committed to neoliberal restructuring that in the transition to the fourth industrial revolution leads Schwab and his partners. For this reason, he adds “We need to advance following the logic of historical progress and develop ourselves by riding the current of development of our time… we need to learn by comparing long historical cycles and see the change in things through the subtle and minute… oppose all forms of protectionism”
He continues “we must… facilitate cross-border trade, keep industry and supply chains safe and smooth, and promote steady and robust progress in global economic recovery. Economic globalization is the trend of the times. Although it is certain that there are countercurrents in a river, none can prevent it from flowing towards the sea. The driving forces reinforce the momentum of the river and the resistance can still improve its flow. Despite crosscurrents and dangerous shoals along the way, economic globalization has never strayed, will not stray off its course” (no comment).
He adds “we should establish generally acceptable and effective rules for artificial intelligence and the digital economy on the basis of full consultation, and create an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for scientific and technological innovation. This is the way to make economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and win-win, and to fully unleash the vitality of the world economy…It is imperative to strengthen macro-policy coordination…we must discard the cold war mentality and seek peaceful coexistence and win-win outcomes. China will continue to allow the market to play its role better”
China is at the epicenter of capitalist restructuring in the 21st century and is part of (among others) the sector of technological capital that leads the transition between the third and fourth industrial revolutions. But, in addition, the weight of Chinese culture and its model of society sinuously begin to shape global society; the wave of labor reforms with extension of the working day, reduction of the benefits of the social benefits system, job stability, freedom of union organization, among others, are closely associated with the so-called «Chinese miracle» (8% GDP growth in 2021 ) whose indicators are the result of a brutal flexibilization and labor exploitation that regresses the working class to the conditions prior to the Chicago martyrs.
This should draw the attention of governments like the Venezuelan one, who have not only built a camping narrative to justify throwing themselves into the Chinese arms, but are also signing long-term exploitation and extractivism agreements that are turning into renewed forms of dependency with another empire.
This is also generating a correlation in the educational agenda, since the Chinese model requires an educational system of «skills», «success», «job offer» that begins to permeate the narratives of many decision makers in the sector. Chinese educational «successes» have been the result of rhythms, schedules and requirements for children and young people at the limit of their abilities and with demands for achievement linked to market competitiveness, something that is significantly distant from the alternative. In 2019 at the world artificial intelligence conference, China showed how it is using facial biometric recognition and artificial intelligence to develop Orwellian mechanisms of university control, selection and exclusion. We have an enormous need to know in depth and discuss the Chinese educational model if we want to begin to think and build anti-capitalist resistance to a model that emerges with hegemonic pretensions.
- 3.2. Not a word about releasing vaccine patents
All attendees at this Davos Forum (2022) referred to the pandemic and the success in developing the vaccine, as well as the scope of vaccination. Although they stressed that not all countries are in the same conditions to access the vaccine, there was not a single mention of releasing immunization patents. As the attendees defend the logic of the market, it seems to them not only justifiable but laudable that any solution to a problem generates profits for those who promote it.
The concepts of efficiency and effectiveness that were handled in Davos are closely associated with the possibilities of supply and demand, where the pandemic becomes a market. Solutions to health problems do not go through sessions of the World Economic Forum, but must be the result of the construction of other mechanisms and scenarios for the articulation of solidarity from the autonomy of the peoples.
- 3.3. Digital transformation and technological innovation: investment to solve the technological gap, market law to overcome the epistemic gap
While in Latin America and the Caribbean, given the limited coverage and penetration of the Internet, the lack of connection equipment and the precarious digital culture of the educational sector generated during the pandemic school exclusion and lack of continuity of the pedagogical link of about 50% students, the Davos Forum speaks of an accelerated digital transition in the world, confirming that it does not care that the region remains outside the margins of this process. While in Latin America and the Caribbean a model of neo-privatization of education was generated by transferring national States to their citizens the responsibilities of guaranteeing the fundamental conditions to develop teaching-learning processes (connection, computers, own and free virtual platforms) in the Forum Three billion dollars of investment in infrastructure and teacher training in the United States are announced at Davos to guarantee the digital transition.
It is surprising how Africa, with the enormous economic limitations still drags, is on the path of this digital transition or at least has formulated plans for it, developing digitization processes, blockchain, the use of artificial intelligence for the transparency of public funds, among others. others.
Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia indicated that the pandemic and the quarantine had made it possible to jump between 5-7 years, with respect to the planned route in the transition from the third to the fourth industrial revolution. In this sense, the forced virtualization of the world population confined to quarantine and the closure of schools became mechanisms of forced and massive digital literacy of millions of people (teachers, students, families). In addition, a terrible social conceptual reference was built that is beginning to be used to value educational institutions as stuck in the past, blaming teachers for it when in reality this is the responsibility of educational disinvestment in the matter, which has occurred during the last decades. .
Both John Kerry and Bill Gates insisted on the need for extraordinary financing for digital transformation, without detailing the sources from which these funds will originate. In fact, in the midst of a global economic crisis, this silence generates suspicions regarding the risk that it becomes an assault on the budgets dedicated to the social agenda. The reforms of the pension funds, as well as the loss of prestige of the teaching profession, presented as outdated, seem to be part of this buccaneer work to allocate funds for digital transformation.
The use of satellites, not only for communications but also for international financial regulation and the optimization of investments in the extractivist, agro-industrial and industrial sectors, were presented as a new frontier of knowledge. Paradoxically, the precarious satellite and aeronautical career of the global south does not emerge as an alternative to this new offensive of standardization, control, and hegemonization.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UNDP stated that the digital world was the «most transformative variable» from the present and for the near future, something that the WEF (2022) presents as a summary of many of the feelings of the speakers of this appointment . This corresponds to the interventions of the government representatives of Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, and was absent in the speeches of the Latin American leaders.
The fourth industrial revolution and its 4.0 factories are impossible to develop without this digital transformation, which is why access to it is defining new capitalist center-periphery schemes, where Latin America appears on the most distant frontier, in the digital paleolithic. Rwandan Minister Paula Ingabire spoke of her country’s efforts to improve digital coverage, accessibility and education, while businessman Sunil Bhart Mittal, president of Bharti Enterprises, saw it as an opportunity for countries to receive benefits, and Hans Vesterberg (Verizon Communications) argued that to achieve this goal, connectivity should become a human right.
A promise that sounded like a hegemony under construction was loudly heard in the debates of the World Economic Forum that in the future “every mountain, desert and territory would be covered by the internet”. This shows that capital is going to invade all parts of the world in order to commodify the digital world; his call for connectivity as a human right seeks to force governments to seek money “from anywhere” to sustain the digital transition that the mode of production requires.
The fact that the representatives of the WEF (2022) intend to appropriate the cry that roared in the streets during the quarantine, regarding including the connection as a democratic conquest and a human right, cannot undermine the effort that the popular sectors promote in that sense. Democratizing Internet access will make it possible to build resistance and alternative models in a context as changing as the one announced by the fourth industrial revolution. Teachers’ unions and guilds, student associations must raise this social demand, accompanied by a critical and creative literacy of the digital and virtual world, which corresponds to the interests of the majority.
- 3.4. New forms of energy and climate action
2050 is presented as the deadline for the ecological disaster to show itself not only with all its impetus but also for it to move towards irreversibility. This has caused sectors of capital to adopt aspects of the ecological agenda, among them the reduction of greenhouse gases and the production of energy with carbon. China, which is working to become a hegemonic power in the medium term, has taken giant steps in this direction by reducing an important part of its coal production, even at the cost of affecting its own production, this reduction having a direct impact on the chain. of supplies for the generation of goods worldwide.
This trend impacts the countries that produce coal and oil, in aspects such as the production of electric cars, which is just the tip of the iceberg of this ongoing energy change for 2030. For this reason, López Obrador has raised the need to transform the economic model of that country, breaking with the economic dependence on the oil industry, although in this case it is at the cost of the destruction of jungle territories and native communities. China not only begins to close its coal mines, but also explores new sources of energy from nuclear fusion, which allowed it to present an artificial sun just a few weeks ago that develops temperatures five times higher than that of our star king, something that is part of the development of alternative energy to those that produce greenhouse gases.
This will have a direct impact on school systems that will begin to impose content that justifies this transition and the generation of alternative energy models. However, nuclear energy in fact constitutes an equal or greater risk to life and the planetary ecology. Therefore, educators, the student movement is called to develop an alternative agenda in terms of energy sources. Radical but possible environmentalism seems to be the orientation of the dispute that is just beginning.
- 3.5. Latin America becoming the Africa of the 21st ventura
Pathetic speeches by the presidents of Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia and Peru at the World Economic Forum absolutely disconnected from the trends of the global debate, both in favor of the peoples and of capital. It seemed like a meeting of mayors asking for more investment, talking about legal security for foreign investment, assuming themselves as spokesmen for a new cycle of dependency and colonization.
Perhaps the most realistic was the president of Guatemala who pointed out that migration as a growing phenomenon in the region is due to the precarious conditions of work, employment, housing and social security; Of course, the only possible solution to build their «walls of prosperity» is the deepening of economic dependence on transnational capital. Terribly disappointing the intervention of colleague José Pedro Castillo Terrones; Castillo had already shocked us with his speech at the CELAC Forum recently held in Mexico, where the highlight was his meeting with slim businessman asking him to lead the digital transformation of Peru, but now, he only expressed that there was legal certainty for investment and its commitment to an anti-terrorist policy (?), focusing the solution of Peru’s problems on the generation of greater dependency. Duque showed that he has the capacity to tell stories by speaking of a prosperous Colombia that does not take into account the demands of the national strike and a green economy that dismisses murders of social and ecological leaders in that country.
Latin America shamefully presented itself begging to deepen its economic, political, social and technological dependence. The presidents who spoke at this meeting did not keep the forms of representation of their positions, corroborating with their interventions, that Latin America is becoming the backyard of corporations, from where they will extract raw materials and where they will sell their trinkets. They no longer even considered import substitution or requested money to set up industrial development, but instead offered their wealth for global extractivist policy.
- 3.6. New social contract
The only voice linked to the world of work, in this edition of the Davos forum, was that of Sharon Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who was responsible for introducing the notion of a new social contract. Clearly, the transition between the third and fourth industrial revolutions and the digital transformation demand a redefinition of worker-employer relations and social commitments with the labor sector.
Factories 4.0 are being thought of as automated, robotic spaces, with artificial intelligence and a significant reduction in on-site labor. Similarly, the world of offices is being impacted by the virtual model and hourly offices redefine the entire concept of workspace. In addition, they begin to talk about professional planned obsolescence as of 2030, the date from which professional fields intersect and demand in-depth knowledge of metadata analysis, blockchain, artificial intelligence, non-linear programming associated with interdisciplinary perspectives. All this breaks with the notions of job stability, maximum working hours, social benefits, etc. and, it requires a deep restructuring in these fields, something that has been happening and that will increase progressively during the next years.
However, it highlights the brazenness with which examples of this «new social contract» were omitted in the corporate sector that constitute the backbone of the World Economic Forum. While the Davos Forum was taking place, in England the transnational UNILEVER was laying off thousands of workers, a policy justified by a reorganization promoted by new investors that forced them to update their own capacities. In Davos there was talk of profits for large companies, but not of the over-exploitation of labor.
Achieving a new balance between work and capital is part of what is coming and is beginning to be presented as a new social contract. This has a correlation in the world of teaching, where the majority of education workers have only recently become literate in the use of some virtual-digital platforms and packages, for whom the algorithm is nothing more than a word associated with the computational world. , who have not been trained to generate communication and knowledge in immaterial environments. Teaching will be one of the professions most confronted by capital in coming years due to the significant percentage they represent in the «global labor market» and the volume of the public budget they absorb. Therefore, the notion of a new social contract will have a clear expression in education.
We teachers have to turn the debate on the new social contract into a dispute that makes society fall in love as a whole, on a new education that combines tradition and innovation, attendance with the support of virtual environments, generation and creation of knowledge in digital, all with a profound impact on the daily life of the communities. It is time to be creative without giving up the perspective of anti-capitalist resistance.
- 3.7. Global collaboration
The collaborative perspective of the World Economic Forum was masterfully defined by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), when she stated that “the world community must come together to strengthen the trading system and be fit for the future of the world”. trade, one that is less prohibitive and more inclusive.” That is, global cooperation is to strengthen the logic of capital and the market system.
In fact, more than 50 companies with a capital of more than 5,000 million dollars are building a route that expresses this cooperation model, through the initiative «Measuring capitalism: towards common metrics and consistent reports of sustainable value creation» promoted by the Davos Forum. This path hopes to go from the corporate to the government sector, as a good practice of effective control of capital by the interested parties.
In this sense, the environment, rights, health and education are seen as market dynamics that seek «the adoption of universal and common standards and disclosures that unlock long-term value through greater transparency, responsibility and transformation business”. For this reason, the issue of the digital transformation of education becomes a process of investment and results, because according to this perspective, typical of the evaluative culture of capitalism, «it seeks to improve the way in which companies measure and demonstrate their contributions to create more prosperous and fulfilling societies and a more sustainable relationship with our planet”.
We education workers have to build other global cooperation mechanisms that are capable of breaking with the localism to which the mechanization of teaching work has been circumscribed. Only from a recovery of critical epistemology, based on the dialectic of the global and the local, can we advance in the development of another possible international cooperation.
- 3.8. In blacksmith’s, house skewer stick: New global governance
While the highest authority of the US Federal Reserve requests changes in the global governance of the economy, something that has a correlate in the criticisms that capital makes of multilateralism, in the The World Economic Forum gave its opinion on everything that the others should do on the matter, but nothing on its own governance.
In fact, in Switzerland there is a whole controversy about the lack of transparency in the administration of contributions that the treasury of that country makes to support the WEF, which generated a significant cut in the matter by the Swiss Executive. This reveals the double-standard nature of capitalism, which calls for changes and an open agenda from governments while turning its way of operating into a black box.
- 4. Lessons from Davos for teachers’
The class-oriented and combative teachers’ movement cannot be oblivious to the debates of the world economy, since for capitalism, education and school systems must be functional to the mode of production. Consequently, any economic decision has a correlate in the educational agenda.
The depoliticization of education workers tries to build a false common sense that what is important for teachers is teaching, that is, worrying about how to manage content. This alienation in teaching work extends to some professional and union organizations who focus on the struggle for demands, wages and even national policies, but have difficulty following the decision-making processes of the capitalist centers. The repoliticization of education workers involves building an internationalist culture that develops collective capacities to understand and distinguish in the educational agenda what corresponds to an orientation of hegemonic power or is an expression of autonomous developments.
What happened in education, in 2020-2021 during the covid-19 pandemic, with its aftermath of exclusion and stratification, became in fact part of the world’s digital transformation path. It mattered very little to the capitalist center that more than half of the student population was excluded from this dynamic and that a school stratification was generated that deepened the differences of social class; the needs of the market were above those of citizens.
Consequently, after showing the «lag of educational institutions» with respect to the acceleration of innovation -although this was actually the fault of the disinvestment of governments and not of teachers- it is even irrationally emphasized with the forced return to classrooms with bimodal proposals even without the minimum biosafety conditions, something that transnational technological capital promotes trying to consolidate before society the image of schools, high schools and universities that are out of date with the current technological dynamics. This is part of the attempt to rob the public budget for education and transfer it to those who promote virtual education, home education or the corporations that are behind the bimodality proposals.
This social image becomes a minimum requirement to try to rob the budget for official public education, the teacher payroll and everything related to equipment. We are witnessing the beginning of an impressive attempt to transfer public funds to technology companies, to large corporations of the digital and virtual world. Therefore, for teachers, the capitalist narrative of digital transformation has a very specific connotation, in terms of the sustainability of face-to-face public education and the teaching profession itself, which is why what was debated in Davos directly impacts the sector.
The most important lesson from Davos is that we have to recover the study of economics and technology, with its direct impact on the formulation of public educational policies, if we want to build efficient resistance to capital’s offensive against public education.
English Version: Celina Castro Jaimes
List of references
ECLAC (2013) Trade and investment relations between China and Latin America. ECLAC editions. Disponible en https://www.cepal.org/sites/default/files/events/files/presentacion_alicia_barcena_cepal.pdf
Den Rong (2006) Den Xiaoping y la Revolución Cultural: su hija recuerda los años críticos. Editorial Popular. España.
FEM (2022) Agenda de Davos: ¿Qué podemos esperar de 2022? Aspectos destacados y conclusiones clave. Nota de prensa. Disponible en https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/01/davos-agenda-2022-highlights-key-takeaways/
MacFarquhar Roderick y Schoenhals Michael (2009). La Revolución Cultural China. Ediciones Crítica. España.