The founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab. Image Credit: AFP

Davos: The founder of the World Economic Forum says US President Donald Trump would have been an “interesting discussion partner” at its annual Davos event starting on Tuesday, but acknowledges that the partial US government shutdown scuttled those plans. Klaus Schwab says he saw Trump shortly before Christmas and heard he had been “very much looking forward to coming back.”

Last year, Trump was a highlight attendee at the elite gathering in the Swiss Alps, where he dined with business executives and met foreign leaders. Trump cancelled the US delegation’s trip to Davos this year amid the partial government shutdown. “He would have been an interesting discussion partner,” Schwab said. “But of course, we have understanding: We see government stand still.”

Now, the WEF chief is focusing on reshaping the “global architecture” that has split populists and globalists and left many people feeling left out. That could be a tall order as trade forecasts predict slowdown and economic growth has eased, in part after Trump tax cuts doped-up the economy and markets last year. “I’m concerned because we are walking on very thin ice,” Schwab said in an interview at the Davos conference centre. “We are the back-end of a very strong, long positive economic cycle — maybe boosted by tax relief in the US.”

Schwab, born in Ravensburg, Germany, in 1938, was a little-known business professor at the University of Geneva when in 1971 he founded the WEF’s precursor, the European Management Forum. He later broadened the conclave by inviting US business leaders, assembling a prestigious Rolodex as he turned the gathering into a showcase for networking and exchange of ideas.

Schwab believes the world is going through a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” involving rapid technological change, and says too many are being left behind. He wants to see more “equilibrium” between national or individual needs and imperatives facing the world. “We are living in an interdependent, global humanity and there are global challenges like the environment, like terrorism, like mega-migration for which we have to find common solutions,” he said.

Schwab also said leaders need to do a better job of addressing people’s problems. “We have really a gap in terms of shaping the future,” he said. “So, it’s not astonishing that people lose hope because if you don’t know how your future looks particularly at times of rapid change, then you become really egocentric, you revert to a bunker mentality — and that’s reflected not only on the political and national level.”