Is Klaus Schwab the greatest threat of our time?

New York Alexandra rang me from London to enquire about a man by the name of Klaus Schwab: ‘He sounds like the greatest threat of our time. Should I be worried?’ ‘Nah,’ I answered. ‘He’s just another typical smooth-talking, smarmy Davos Man. ‘That’s what scares me,’ said the wife. For the very few of you who have not heard of Klausie baby, he is the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, or WEF, a grandiose title and well deserved to be sure, although it once created a social media video that contained the slogan: ‘You will own nothing, And you’ll be happy.’ The WEF is where technocratic

The Covid trap: will society ever open up again?

The great pandemic of 2020 has led to an extraordinary expansion of government power. Countries rushed to close their borders and half of the world’s population were forced into some sort of curfew. Millions of companies, from micropubs to mega corporations, were prohibited from carrying on business. In supposedly free and liberal societies, peaceful strollers and joggers were tracked by drones and stopped by policemen asking for their papers. It’s all in the name of defeating coronavirus; all temporary, we’re told. But it’s time to ask, just how temporary? As Milton Friedman used to warn: ‘Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government programme.’ Measures that seemed unthinkable a few

How will the world be changed by the war against coronavirus?

The world as we have known it for the past 40 years has come to a stop. We have a supply chain crisis, a demand crisis, a labour market crisis and an oil price crisis. The second crash that people were long predicting has arrived — but against the backdrop of the Covid-19 threat, it seems like a second-order story. The pound has already hit its lowest rate for decades, and more shocks may occur in the bond and currency markets. How long the disaster will last — or how much worse it will get — is anyone’s guess. Thanks to the virus, events which earlier this year would have

America has turned into a bad joke

Gstaad     Rumours about the virus are flying around this village. First there was talk of a hotel being temporarily quarantined, then a shindig given by a fat social climber where one of the guests was said to be infected. So far these seem to have been false alarms but still the fat old rich who don’t ski are panicking, staying indoors and incommunicado. This is good news. Even better news is that I’ve been skiing with my son and have never had a better time, although he did have to wait for me at times. The snow was unexpectedly good and there was plenty of it. My trouble

Ideas are history

Wallace Stevens called it ‘the necessary angel’. Ted Hughes thought it ‘the most essential bit of machinery we have if we are going to live the lives of human beings’. Coleridge described its role a little more vigorously: ‘The living Power and prime Agent of all human perception… a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM’. The imagination is the subject of Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s latest grand sweep of a book. Not a historian to dwell on individual kings, queens or battles, he has identified the creation of ideas as the driver of history, the imagination as their source and the pool

The art of persuasion | 23 May 2019

People sometimes ask what slogan could have swayed the Brexit vote: the opposite of the touchstone phrase ‘Take back control’. There are many suggestions, my own being: ‘Don’t leave — it’s what the French want us to do.’ No Europhile committee would ever have approved a jingoistic slogan, of course; yet the feelings of committed Europeans are irrelevant. Those people will vote Remain in any case. Instead you need to reach the ambivalent, sceptical or mildly hostile. This raises the central question about communication: do you want to feel good about yourself, or do you want to change the minds of others? The art of sloganeering can serve two powerful

Technology and the winner-takes-all effect

I was exchanging emails with someone the other day and signed off with the sentence ‘let me know when you are next in London’ or words to that effect. It then occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea where in the world my correspondent lived. This interested me. Because it occurred to me that I could write the sentence ‘next time you are in London’ to more or less anyone in the world without it sounding ridiculous. Of how many other cities is that true? New York, certainly. But then it gets difficult. Paris or Singapore? Well, at a pinch. It wouldn’t work for Perpignan, say, or Bourton-on-the-Water.

The new third Way

Forget left and right — the new divide in politics is between nationalists and globalists. Donald Trump’s team believe that he won because he was the America First candidate, defying the old rules of politics. His nationalist rhetoric on everything from trade to global security enabled him to flip traditionally Democratic, blue-collar states and so to defeat that personification of the post-war global order, Hillary Clinton. The presidential election in France is being fought on these lines, too. Marine Le Pen is the nationalist candidate, a hybrid of the hard right and the far left. She talks of quitting the European single currency and of bringing immigration down to 10,000

A year of revolution

Few years will live as long in the memory as 2016. Historians will ponder the meaning and consequences of the past 12 months for decades to come. In the future, 180-odd years from now, some Zhou Enlai will remark that ‘it is too soon to say’ when asked about the significance of Brexit. The referendum result shocked Westminster. Michael Gove was so sure it would be Remain that he had retreated to bed on the evening of 23 June and only found out Leave had won when one of his aides telephoned in the early hours of the morning. Theresa May admits in her interview with us on p. 26 that

The new normal

-What was your favourite response from the liberals to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election? Actress Emma Watson handing out copies of a Maya Angelou book to bewildered commuters in New York? Cher announcing that she wasn’t simply leaving the USA, ‘but Planet Earth too’ — a move some of us assumed she had made at least 40 years ago? The hysterical protestors who set fire to their own shoes because they thought the said shoes were pro-Trump? The hyperbolic hatred spewed out towards those who voted for the Donald, or Matthew Parris suggesting that maybe this democracy caper has gone too far, or the teachers telling tearful

Something new out of Africa

In a Johannesburg mall, a listless and lonely IT worker chats with his dad about the bitter fruits of upward mobility in South Africa. ‘Do you remember when you scored 139 for that IQ test?’ Pa asks, in Masande Ntshanga’s story ‘Space II’. ‘I thought it meant my life would be different, I tell him, but I don’t really like computers.’ As the dream of a ‘rainbow nation’ fades, all the Ubers, espressos and craft beers in the city can’t dispel the mood of yuppie melancholia. Modern Africa, as several pieces in the latest edition of this annual anthology attest, may cast away old burdens only to take on the

The Clintons made Trump

   New York ‘Does this mean we have to vote for Hillary?’ asked my wife. It was early morning 16 March, and the queen consort of the Democratic party had seemingly sewn up the presidential nomination — a coronation promised years ago by her king but thus far denied by unruly subjects. As I scanned the headline in the New York Times, ‘Clinton and Trump Pile up the Delegates’, I felt sick at heart. The Times has functioned throughout the campaign as court gazette for the Clintons, but there was no denying the basic accuracy of the story. Rebounding from Bernie Sanders’s stunning upset a week earlier in the Michigan

Going global

We can all identify decades in which the world moved forward. Wars are not entirely negative experiences: the social and technological advances of the 1910s and 1940s are obvious. Ben Wilson has been more thoughtful, and has chosen the 1850s — or, more specifically, the years from 1851 to 1862. It was a time when, as he says, Britain was at the peak of her power. The empire was not at its greatest — the Scramble for Africa had yet to occur — but Germany had not unified, and America was economically overdependent on slavery and, not least because of that abomination, about to fall into civil war. Wilson describes

A world crisis with no world leader

There was a time when having almost two hundred of your citizens blown out of the sky was a big deal for a western democracy. But when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine last month, killing 193 Dutch citizens and a couple of dozen other Europeans, the response was conspicuous public mourning, some mild objections, a soupçon more sanctions, but otherwise nothing. Everyone knew which government might have handed powerful surface-to-air missiles to eastern Ukraine’s rebels. But nobody seemed willing or able to do anything much about it. There was also a time when whole swaths of the map being overrun by Islamic groups who make al-Qa’eda

David Cameron must tackle the optimism deficit

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”James Forsyth and Alex Massie explain why we need more optimism in Scotland and Westminster” startat=1538] Listen [/audioplayer]There is an optimism deficit in British politics. Politicians seem incapable of making a positive argument for anything, including the country itself. The British government’s case in the Scottish independence referendum has been almost entirely negative. Those looking for an uplifting defence of the United Kingdom have been left sorely disappointed as the government has instead stuck to technocratic arguments about why Scotland would be worse off on its own. This failure north of the border reflects a broader failure to persuade people that Britain has a bright future. Fifty four