The World Economic Forum just released its yearly report. It's a run-up to the gathering of the economic tribe at Davos later this month and lists global concerns that should be placed high on one's "worry list." Last year it was natural disasters; this year, it's income inequality. Big surprise? No. Props to Occupy Wall Street for helping put this on the Davos radar screen.
The World Economic Forum's website is awash in dense verbiage ("the contextual change at the top of minds remains the rebalancing and deleveraging that is reshaping the global economy"), but at least the report appears much more direct, positing a "dystopian future for much of humanity."
We're living in a world out of balance, a financial top is spinning wildly out of control. The apocalypse is upon us. It's not the Mayan end-of-the-world prediction that should keep us up at night, according to the World Economic Forum it's all about debt, debt and more debt.
Lots of fodder for the intellectual grist mill later this month when academics and power brokers huddle over spitzbuben cookies.
Being neither an academic nor power broker, I began thinking film. Dystopian futures? A cinematic genre in itself, with no shortage of flicks. There was The Road (2009). Too much character study for me, I tend towards epics. How about Soylent Green (1973), where one-percenters have found a solution to world hunger. ("Soylent Green is people!")? In that world, the extremely wealthy live in ultra-high rise condos surrounded by moats, and order is maintained by police bulldozers that plow into future Zuccotti Parks with a vengeance, sweeping up malcontents in their wake. No need here for pepper-spray. There's the future hell of Blade Runner (1982) where the corporate-fascist Tyrell Company runs all of human affairs from its ultra-high rise headquarters. Couldn't help thinking: Had 200 West Street's architects seen the movie?
No doubt, between outings to the ski slope and the restaurants, there will be a consensus among Davos attendees that more needs to be done to solve the debt crisis and ameliorate the harsh living conditions of the 99 per centers. I'm sure, with patronizing aplomb, there will be calls for restoring dignity and economic viability to all — lofty goals that may indeed inspire discussion and dialogue — but, really, the pretense that the world can be changed with something less than a paradigm shift will remain unacknowledged.
Actually, I'm not sure that we're headed towards a dystopian future, as the World Economic Forum’s report suggests. I think we're already there, living it — here and now. The inequality gap in this country is so profound, that I’d venture to say that we’re living in the Former United States of America, a pale copy of what this country once was. The so-called American Dream has vaporized like much of MF Global's investments. A line has been drawn in the economic sand, where once there was a possibility of rising out of your financial circumstance, there now exists impassable moats and Teflon walls that guard the wealth of the 1%.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center confirmed that two-thirds of Americans polled believe that we're living in a changed world, defined by "class." Those affected by the economic downturn know full well the impact of the "dystopian future" described in the World Economic Forum's report.
It's a bit like Preston Sturges' classic Sullivan Travels (1941) where Robert Grieg, the butler, tells his exasperated boss, Hollywood director, John Lloyd Sullivan, (about to take off on a lark to see how the other half lives): "The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous." To be fair, no one at Davos considers the economic challenges faced by the world as "glamorous," but perhaps the attendees might query their own service staff for possible solutions. No doubt, they might have something to add to the dialogue.
Plenty to ponder at Davos. But first, another fondue, please.
Joel Sucher, a filmmaker with Pacific Street Films in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. is working on "Foreclosure Diaries," a documentary about the financial crisis.