Billionaires and Radical Hope: Thoughts from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

Billionaires and Radical Hope: Thoughts from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland


Good morning Hank, it’s Tuesday. So I spent last week in Davos, Switzerland, which most of the time is a fairly standard alpine ski village. There are souvenir shops, babies in sleds, horse restaurant cults and, you know, alps. But one week a year, Davos is taken over by the World Economic Forum, a strange and wondrous throng of CEOs, world leaders, scientists and a lot of security guards who are ostensibly coming together to improve the state of the world. Much of the action happens behind closed doors where, like, EU and American diplomats try to hammer out a compromise over Internet privacy concerns, for instance, or CEOs work out business deals. But the whole town is transformed for this week into a fevered pitch for investment and growth and change. We’re told to “Think India”, but also “Think Mexico” and Kazakhstan and particular regions of India and also think Salesforce and Microsoft and Accenture and Bank of America. And on and on. There was an intensity to the whole thing I’ve never really felt before. It was a week of business and politics and activism smashing together. And everyone seemed to feel that they could actually change history. Like, increase prosperity, achieve gender parity, educate the world. And of course there’s something naive about all that, but as I heard an artist say at one point in Davos, “Perhaps naivete isn’t something to be ashamed of, but something to embrace.” The other thing Davos gets a lot of flak for is its elitism and there was a weird, wealthy provincialism about some of the people I met. For instance, they kept asking me where I was based, rather than where I lived, as if the life of a Davos man, and they are overwhelmingly male, was too international and sophisticated to just, like, live somewhere. And then when I explained that I lived in Indianapolis, people almost always asked, “Why?” I resisted the urge to say, “Partly because of people like you, asking questions like that.” In general, I found the social hierarchies of it all exhausting at times, like of all the ways the billionaire class could have organized their social order, they seemed to have chosen as a model the American middle school. And yet, it was wonderful. It was wonderful to see so many people attending concise and clear minded discussions of why climate change is happening and how it’s going to change human and nonhuman life. It was wonderful to see the global goals posted everywhere, reminding us of the commitments that we have made to ourselves. And it was wonderful to meet with representatives of Save The Children and the UN’s Refugee Agency to learn about the big challenges of improving the healthcare and education of the world’s most vulnerable people. Also, I learned tons about everything from virtual reality movies being made in refugee camps to research being done on peer learning, to the perils of economic inequality. And one particular recommendation: After I met the filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy at Davos, I watched her Oscar nominated documentary about honor killing in Pakistan and it is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen. Right, but anyway Hank, all week long I kept think about Khurram Hussain who was a father living in the Annawadi slum in Mumbai, and at one point in her book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo reports Hussain as saying, “Everybody in Annawadi talks like this – Oh, I will make my child a doctor, a lawyer, and he will make us rich. It’s vanity, nothing more. Your little boat goes west and you congratulate yourself, ‘What a navigator I am!’ and then the wind blows you east.” Again and again at Davos, I found myself up against the ancient question of whether people make history or history makes people, and how power and poverty shape our answers. Now I know this is easier to say from a privileged position up high in the Alps, but I do believe that human progress is possible, even if it isn’t inevitable. And I remain both convinced of and deeply moved by the radical hope that has defined so much human effort over the millennia. For me, this is actually typified by Sharmeen’s movie, which inspired the prime minister of Pakistan to finally, belatedly denounce honor killing, which is a small but real step toward a better world. Hank, in the coming weeks, I’m going to look at some of the big problems I left Davos thinking about: Income inequality, climate change, the refugee crisis, and the ways that gender inequality affect poverty. Nerdfighters, let me know in comments if there are other global human challenges you’d like to see us discuss. Hank, I have the jet lag, so I’m going to take a nap. I will see you on Friday.

100 thoughts on “Billionaires and Radical Hope: Thoughts from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

  1. I would like to know more about the intersecting interests of preventing further climate change and improving global health. I'm pretty sure that those goals overlap a lot, but do they ever conflict with one another?

  2. Re other global challenges to address in your videos: organ shortage problem, Singer's pond analogies, Effective Altruism, the arbitrariness of where 'family'/'us' ends and 'others' begin, identity conflicts.

  3. Climate change will change human and animal life. When the Liberals realized that this change wont end the world these elites will have found a way to profit from it. Reversing a normal change in the climate that we have only spud up would be even worst for our planet. People just so scared of change still.

  4. Btw the number one danger to our planet isn't climate change, its the fact that a planet killing asteroid will hit our planet.

  5. Talk about LGBT+ equality, it's a very important issue in today's world. Just as women in the Middle East are being killed for being born a woman, queer people are being killed in the Middle East and Africa for being born queer. (And I use queer as an umbrella term for the LGBT+ community, not as a slur.)

  6. I feel like the biggest challenge we face is the theological ideology of Islam. The central message of Islam is that it is the only true religion and it must be spread through the use of violence as it has for the past 14 centuries. The global Jihad we face today and our inability to recognise it's root cause as a civilization will cost us dearly in the upcoming decades

  7. As one attendee put it- Davos is where you can talk to everyone who "matters'' -in the whole WORLD!!! Davos doesn't only put on display inconceivable inequality of wealth -it also highlights vast inequalities of influence, power, and access.

    Inequality is a cause -not an effect.

    Davos is a bunch of spots coming together to figure out how they will cure measles. 68/50% – Just how absurd does inequality have to become!

  8. i just want nasa to have more funding so we can have 1000x better technology and more efficient tech and save the planet a little faster and, ya know, GO TO SPACE a little faster, and more jobs, and more education, and more female teenagers inspired to pursue science!! 🙂

  9. Hey John, are you writing a new book??
    I've read all of your books, and I can't get enough, so please, write something!!
    P.S.- Hank is cuter than John, the latter only writes well :p

  10. What absolutely no one in this comment section seems to understand is that climate change is an inherently natural process. The Earth goes through cycles and the most recent extreme one happened to be an ice age. Now, I'm not trying to say that we haven't affected the cycle because we have. All I'm saying is that humans didn't create climate change. They merely expedited it which is still a bad thing, but not as grandiose as if you automatically assumed it's a repercussion of humankind.

  11. I would love to see you tackle technological unemployment; nothing seems to be being done about it, and I would love to hear your take on it.

    Loved the video, btw.

  12. I keep hearing him say "Davros" instead of "Davos." Is Davros trying to out-humanitarian The Doctor? Is that his new plan?

  13. Wow this sounds like a really cool convention. I'd like to hear discus the water crisis. An interesting fact: dirty water kills more people than all global violence combined.

  14. Wow this sounds like a really cool convention. I'd like to hear discus the water crisis. An interesting fact: dirty water kills more people than all global violence combined.

  15. I would personally love to see you discuss issues of people with disabilities around the world, and how events like the Paralympics shape our view of such people. Think it's a very important area with lots of interesting views to be shared 🙂 also great video!

  16. I know this might seem trivial compared to other matters but micro credit is something I would like to see addressed by world leaders

  17. I'm excited to say that my school, Liberty University, has said they will be taking up special offerings to help refugees. Also I believe the wage gap and gender equality are incredibly important issues.

  18. Please please please talk about literacy!! Often when I tell people i want to go into literacy out reach they look at me with this glance like "aw nice you want everyone in the world to read Harry Potter" ( granted I am a large HP fan. But they often miss the millions other advantages of literacy such as being able to read a contract or a medicine bottle.

  19. I'm so glad that John, and others like him, are able to go to these far away elite events with powerful people and report back to us here on Youtube in a real, human way. The Green brothers are undoubtedly well off, but despite that they never seem far off, unreachable. Income inequality and physical distance is nothing compared to the mental distance that so many people have once they get to a certain comfortable point. That point means financial security for some, it means reaching an age where you no longer seek out alternate viewpoints for others. But whatever that distance is, I'm glad that Hank and John aren't on the other side of it.

  20. Though I don't doubt you met some pretentious jerks on your trip, I feel I may be able to shed some light on the whole "based" thing. When people ask you where you are "based," its a question with an assumption that you own multiple homes, so the answer may be "Well i'm currently based in NY, but I also have a home in Hong Kong which i'll be visiting in February." etc. This gives the person you're having awkward small talk with the opportunity to say "I (or my friend George or whatever) am spending time in Hong Kong then myself!" or "I just recently purchased a property there!" blah blah blah. It isn't necessary a curt thing, perhaps just a wealthy person thing to perpetuate simple conversation about property and the places you live. Not sure what there tone was though, so I could be completely wrong in your situation! Just thought I would share.

  21. Yep, life is great if you're on top! Not so great if you're on bottom. Not even worth living really. So stay on top!

  22. Yep, life is great if you're on top! Not so great if you're on bottom. Not even worth living really. So stay on top!

  23. slightly disappointed about having been in the same place at the same time as John Green without even knowing. Next time make sure to visit the open forum!

  24. "Of all the ways the billionaire class could've organized their social order, they seem to have chosen as a model the American middle school."

  25. Wow, John. You're so intelligent! Like, people always say or feel that they know stuff and stop there, but the real work is in the fact that how much they've learnt from it, and how far are they willing to go and apply that knowledge and subsequently help humanity out of the mess it has created around itself; that's what really makes you intelligent. So proud to be a Nerdfighter!

  26. John- its so fantastic to see all of these people come together and try to make a difference in the world. It only makes sense that all of these capable and wealthy people would strive to improve global ways of life. In my opinion, completely irradicating world hunger is one of the biggest problems we face today. It's unfair that countries such as ours have such an abundant surplus of food, while other countries such as Haiti dont even have enough food as a whole, to provide nourishment to their starving children. Without proper nutrition in early childhood years, a kid cannot grow into a functional and positive contributor to the world, because their body doesn't have enough nutrients to develop their brains properly. Was the crisis of world hunger discussed at this meeting you were just at? If so, what was said and how can we look forward to less hunger in the future?

  27. John, Can you please make a video explaining common core and other educational hot topics. I am going to college next year to become a teacher. I know that in Indiana we have a huge teacher shortage. ( Good news for me! ) But I don't even know where to begin to think about solving this problem. Please make a video my brain would appreciate it. P.s. Thank you for treating me and other fellow teens with integrity, and respect. That means more to me than you will ever know. 🙂

  28. People affected with mental and physical disabilities and how we seem to push those people into the margins of the marginalised…

  29. Next time you do a video on Muslims please remember that a prime minister of Pakistan finally admitting that honor killing of women is wrong is considered progress in one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world. In 2016.

  30. In my opinion, the question isn't whether we are naive to hope for change and a betterment for the human race. A lot of things are possble if we set our minds to it. It's whether we should rely on the status quo to sufficiently solve these problems on their own with no outside pressure. Yes, I believe that their intentions are good and that the wealthy billionaries of the world (or at least the one's who went to this conference) genuinely want positive change in these areas. But are their solutions radical enough to make that change happen? And what about the billionaries that didn't come by this meeting? I highly doubt the Koch brothers did, and they have a tremendous amount of influence on American politics.

  31. I hope there is some talk about the biggest challenge to global economy ever since the advent capitalism: national borders.

    alas, it's a radical hope.

  32. John, quietly, and without shouting about it, a handful of passionate businesses and activists are just getting on with building an entirely new global economy from the bottom up. It's an economy based on the way Nature uses resources, ie endlessly circulating. The passionate businesses are the Unilevers, IKEAs, Cokes, Kingfishers, and Steelcases of this world, so as you can imagine we're already seeing progress. In fact, Ellen MacArthur, and some of her intrepid band of slightly obsessive and business savvy activists, can usually be found at Davos, preaching the circular economy gospel and recruiting more companies with global reach and impacts to sign up. It's impossible to understate the scale of this challenge, and I feel very confident in saying it's the single most difficult thing our species has ever attempted. It makes getting humans to Mars look like a pre-school colouring exercise. It is also perhaps the most important and hopeful thing or species has ever attempted and, while the companies and activists aren't shouting about what they're doing, I'd really like to. I think the rest of us could do with some good environmental news and something positive to rally behind. So would you make a video on the circular economy? And if you were to, I'm have a fair amount of knowledge about it, so I'd love to be involved in some way.

  33. So basically a bunch of rich and powerful people get together to talk about the poor and unpowerful, while tightly clutching their wallets. It's kind of like when people have to read about, or look at a dead body, to feel better about being alive.

  34. the fashion industry (arguably above all others) perpetuates unsustainable practices from environmental pollution to the injustices of sweatshops and the impacts of this recklessness is felt on a global scale. Was there discussion in Davos to remedy some of this?

  35. Did anyone else read this as 'Thoughts from the World Economical Forum in Davros, Switzerland'? Ah, the Doctor Who obsessions…

  36. I agree that it is a little strange that much of humanity puts it's trust in billionaires or world leaders to sort out our problems. But they are our problems too, and I think that's part of what Nerdfighteria is showing everyone who wants to listen- if we are determined enough, we really can make a difference.

  37. Discussion of the world's challenges and find ways to long term invest in slow meaningful change is where that tension lies but also where the powerful momentum starts. I'd love for people to make more good history, one step at a time. I feel really based in Nerdfighteria. Thank you for continuing to create insightful thoughts from places and tackling these challenges.

  38. I find it disingenuous that these people are after an end to poverty when globalization depends on desperate starvation wages to minimize inflation and maximize profits. Our entire free trade system is built on the starving poor of the third world. If we ended income inequality we would no longer be able to acquire cheap labor for our corporations to exploit. The vast majority of products sold in america are produce with labor so cheap that it barely pays for their food to sustain themselves. We force governments to take loans for civic projects to bring in these corporations that provide wages so poor they hardly boost the local economy. With free trade rules in place the third world country gets zero taxes off of the products to help pay back the loans. With terrible interest rates some countries have paid back multiple times the amount of the original loan yet are still owing money. Further the IMF has decided if you are in default of a loan to the world bank then you must fall under structural adjustment. This is when the third world government has zero control over how it spends on education, military spending, and public works. Using structural adjustment we keep minimum wage laws off the books as well as zero environmental laws. So when you see the totality of what we do its not about development but control. We give them loans to take control over their government. That secures our investments from being nationalized and allows us to exploit cheap labor for maximum profits. This is the global system the USA created after we won ww2. The united states empire is built on the starving third world.

  39. It would be cool if you'd discuss the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, China, etc. We only ever get to hear about it from a radically conservative perspective, so it would be interesting to hear your thoughts. I don't mean say that it's "not happening," but I'd like to see more coverage on it from another viewpoint.

  40. I think education is such a big component to all of these problems and especially education of women. Wasn't it Oprah ( or perhaps she was quoting somebody else) that said you educate a woman and you educate a village. Was there much discussion of this issue?

  41. Old nerd-fighter, here, chipping on an MA. I'm thinking of doing a literature review on the relationship between housing segregation and secondary schools BUT I wished I also had time to look at communities in the developing world who want to industrialize (to compete) versus environmental concerns about industrializing ~ recognizing that there are also communities whose self-determination leads them to preserve the environment versus foreign investors industrializing… etc. How about THAT for a topic? Or part of that, to be realistic…

  42. So I recently finished Looking for Alaska and I'm so confused. I cannot decide if I love John Green's books or absolutely hate them. Every time I finish one of his books I have this internal battle of deciding whether I enjoyed that book for the book, making myself think I like the book because I like John Green as a person, or some other unknown reason. So far I'm saying I love John Green's books but it's just so weird. I've never felt this struggle with any author. Anyone else feel this way?

  43. It's a little late, but I'm catching up on vlog brothers and I feel compelled to comment on this one.
    I think we also need to focus on education. There are a lot of big problems in the world, and we need more smart people to help solve them. The only way we can do this is to invest in education around the world, nurture the creativity within people, and giving them opportunities to become more.

  44. inevitable is synonymous with fate. fate finds those who try and avoid it and may not end well for those who do not accept it.

  45. Please, please make a video about the issues and struggles faced by people with disabilities. We constantly get lumped into the "diversity" label, but are rarely ever highlighted within it in ways that aren't "inspirational" or surface-level.

  46. Hi John (and Hank), I LOVE YOU!!! I'm not sure how else to contact you guys, so, please excuse (rather, engage in) this random question: What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation? As a North American with at least six different ethnicities in my background and a genuine love for foreign culture, I'm very confused… -_-

  47. I love hearing discussions and debates about global issues like the last four you mentioned. It's great to see people working toward a better world! Great video John!

  48. One of the big issues that doesn't seem to be discussed much on Vlogbrothers is human trafficking. I don't just mean sex trafficking (which is of course a big and important issue). I also mean the slavery used around the world to obtain labor. The majority of those trafficked are forced to work, but are often forgotten by the world. This needs to be fixed.

  49. Hello John! You probably won't see this, but on the off chance that you do I would just like to ask if you and/or Hank would be willing to skype my class and talk about being a successful YouTuber. The class is called How to be A YouTube Millionaire and in it, we're supposed to pick a successful YouTuber and write a report on them and attempt to contact them. I have chosen Vlogbrothers because I love your videos and your books, I think you and Hank are awesome and I'm most definitely a Nerdfighter. So, if you would do this for me or even just contact me back that would be awesome. Thanks! Also, DFTBA!

  50. John, I'd like to hear more talk about human rights, and civil rights. About how in some places we're making steps, but others seem to be trying to undo the work of past generations. About LGBT rights and a little more about something hank mention in the vegetarian video last week; on how people are often ostracized and shamed for living in accordance with their morals especially when they don't follow the status quo. About counter culture and what that can look like in the 21st century, and maybe some advice for how no to feel so vastly alone in such an interconnected world.

  51. The one thing I associate with Davos was a moment from 2015 where my vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told the audience, he could speak freely since he was among friends and how the debate about TTIP in Germany was hysteric because Germans would be a hysteric people… so yeah. This scene was from a private mobile video.

    Davos is not only about making the world a better place. It is also a lot of shady backroom politics on top of public media often being excluded.

  52. sure progress is possible, but the only thing that billionaires can do to help it is by getting out of our way. billionaires can be very effective in destroying or blocking change to protect their bottom line, but i can't think of one instance where a billionaire has been able to promote democratic justice.

  53. I'd like to see you discuss diversity and inclusion in entertainment. Not for the sake of simply discussing the entertainment industry and all its machinations, but about the ripple effects, positive and negative, springing from: stereotypes, lack of representation, cultural appropriation, historical and cultural inaccuracies, gender balance, colourblind casting, female superheroes, people of colour in romantic leads, discussions about ageism, actors with disabilities, etc. I am both dismayed and inspired by what's going on. Dismayed by all of the negative things that have come from exclusion and bigotry on big and small screens, but inspired by the small but meaningful changes currently happening. This is particularly true when I hear about someone from a marginalised group speaking about how much it means to see someone like themselves portrayed positively. The inspiration factor is HUGE. We need all people to feel like their contributions are meaningful, beginning with a belief that being an innovator is possible for everyone.

    Thanks for the report and the hope. Hope is so motivating.

  54. Wait…let me get this straight. A bunch of billionaires coming together and talking about things in what is, primarily (by your own description) a networking event is "radical hope"? What does that, then, make the rebel organization in a third world country who seeks to cast off the economic oppression imposed on them by those same billionaires?

  55. off topic but can I just say that nerdfighter comment sections are one of the most refined, informed and interesting platforms on the Internet and it's an honor to be able to talk to such intelligent and aware people.dftba!

  56. having billionaires, politicians, etc decide on how we can make the world better for everyone is like having a meeting on feminism an only invite men

  57. It took us hundreds of thousands of years to get where we are today. Change is slow but we'll get there eventually. S:

  58. There is a lot of hope for humanity in such events, but it will all be for nothing if things continue like they do right now. We're right back on track to the middle ages, where a few rich people control and undermine the majority of the population, because they control poltics with money. I really hope for the world that US citizens won't elect Trump, but instead take the last chance this world has, which is Sanders. This will also have a huge impact on Europe, where things like TTIP threaten to make our lives a lot worse.

  59. literally if I was asked where I was based like in 1:13 to see my class, I would of asked them, if your so high and mighty then why would you care.

  60. Ugh. Sounds like a circle jerk; a place to show an egalitarian face while figuring ways to destroy and consume. Radical hope? The fact that hope is a radical position displays the problem. Hell I wish I could walk away with the warm fuzzies, but I'm a realist. A billionaires meeting will not stop the 200,000 year long freight train of fear, greed, devastation, avarice, bloodshed, and oppression that define this world.

  61. i wondee if one day when, a century or more later, when english literature teachers are introducing classic writer John Green to their students, will they ever show them some of these videos? i think that these videos show more about john's personality than his books, and i think that peple would respect john more if they knew how good he is on every single aspect. he is not just a good writer, and not only he has a good style, but also he was very close to his brother, and also had a very good sense of humor, and also cared a lot about the wellness of humanity.

    i wonder how the classic writers we study these days. they might have been very nice people and a lot more than the thoughts they allowed themselves to put on paper, but we never had the chance to see any of the real them.

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