Last week, a global gaggle of billionaires, academics, thought leaders, and other power brokers gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s signature annual event. Climate change! The global economy! Health! The agenda was packed with discussion of the most pressing issues of our time. True to form, much of the musing ventured away from root causes.
Climate change—barring strong words from Greta Thunberg and other activists—was customarily discussed in the context of financial markets and the economy. Rising inequality was predictably repackaged as a threat to “already-fragile economic growth.” It was an echo of Davos 2019, when in a viral clip Dutch historian Rutger Bregman compared the event’s silence on corporate tax avoidance to a firefighting conference with a gag rule about water.
Davos is hardly known for its modesty—nor its favoring of government solutions to publicly shared problems. Hence why it might seem unexpected, even counterintuitive, that companies like Microsoft and IBM spoke at this year’s summit about the need for technology regulation.
But this perfectly captures the US tech industry’s shift toward talking regulation—just in a way that benefits itself—and the related risks of allowing private corporations to set the American (or even global) agenda on technology governance.