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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

DAVOS, Switzerland For two years, the global elite has fumbled for ways to defend the 7-decade-old structure of trade and diplomacy from punishing attacks. This week, they declared the system all but dead.

The main thing now, leading thinkers said, is to ensure that what replaces the system in the coming years prevents a great-power war — as the existing one has — and delivers more for millions left behind by the current economy.

  • The scale of what comes next seems likely to rival key modern social, political and economic transformations, such as the post-Gilded Age of the early 1900s, the global Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of the 1980s.
  • "The paradigm is shifting. Powerful people are asking questions on the record in the halls that they've never asked before," said Ben Pring, director of the Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant.

Since Brexit and the election of President Trump, elite politicians, executives and scholars who meet here every year have wrung their hands over the wave of shocks to a global power system whose permanence most had taken for granted. Those shocks include needling and threats from Trump and throw-out-the-scoundrel elections across Europe and in Brazil.

But these elites told Axios that, while the current system is still functioning in place, a transition is already underway to a likely very different global political and economic order, one that is now at best faintly visible.

  • Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, told attendees that they must make dramatic changes to the global system, and not merely tinker.
  • And executives seemed to agree, voicing a new readiness to fundamentally change course in order to avert the worst, such as social unrest and violence, said Brian Gallagher, CEO of United Way Worldwide.
  • One thing all of them told us: The speed of advanced technologies, in particular artificial intelligence and automation, is already making the transition more disruptive than prior epochal shifts — and may prolong it. 

Wild card: The global system has already buckled under these pressures — and this has been amid strong economic growth. But now, a number of economists forecast global recession and, in the U.S., the possibility of zero growth — and populations may become even angrier under these more stressful conditions.

What to watch:

  • The new order could enable authoritarian-style governments that undermine counterweight institutions, said Adam Tooze, an economic historian at Columbia University. "You could have a liberal trading system with a majority of authoritarian regimes."
  • Many assume Beijing will sooner or later dominate the new order. That is not preordained, but even if power is dispersed regionally, China, India and Brazil all stand differently politically, which could cause tensions of their own.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Acting Capitol Police chief: Phone logs show Jan. 6 National Guard approval was delayed

Pittman at a congressional tribute for fallen officer Brian Sicknick. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman testified on Thursday that cellphone records show former USCP chief Steven Sund requested National Guard support from the House sergeant-at-arms as early as 12:58pm on Jan. 6, but he did not receive approval until over an hour later.

Why it matters: Sund and former House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving clashed at a Senate hearing on Tuesday over a dispute in the timeline for when Capitol Police requested the National Guard during the Capitol insurrection.

Manhattan prosecutors reportedly obtain millions of pages of Trump's tax records

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Manhattan district attorney is now in possession of millions of pages of former President Trump's tax and financial records, CNN first reported, following a Supreme Court ruling that allowed prosecutors to enforce a subpoena after a lengthy legal battle.

Why it matters: Trump fought for years to keep his tax returns out of the public eye and away from prosecutors in New York, who are examining his business in a criminal investigation that was first sparked by hush-money payments made by Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen during the 2016 election.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

The digital dollar is now high priority for the Fed

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. is starting to get serious about a central-bank-backed digital currency, with recent comments from top officials laying out the strongest support yet.

Driving the news: On Tuesday Fed chair Jerome Powell told Congress that developing a digital dollar is a "high priority project for us," but added that there are "significant technical and policy questions."

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