THE late, great 20th-century left-wing economist Ernest Mandel used to say there was “no central committee of the bourgeoisie”. By that he meant the world’s business mandarins did not meet as some secret cabal in Switzerland to rig markets, fix prices and orchestrate global reaction against progress.

Actually, come to think of it, the world’s capitalist business and political elite do meet in conclave every January – at the Alpine winter ski resort of Davos, and have done since 1971. They’ll be there again this week. But to what purpose?

Scotland has a tangential relationship to this regular Davos shindig. The tiny mountain hamlet (population now 11,000) first acquired an international reputation as a health spa for tuberculosis sufferers of the richer sort, back in the 19th century.

One of the early patients to turn up was Robert Louis Stevenson, who wintered in Davos in 1880 on the recommendation of his Edinburgh doctor. Stevenson was suffering from writer’s block as well as TB. Fortunately, the mountain air worked wonders and he was able to contrive a suitable ending for Treasure Island.

In the heady days of globalisation during the 1990s and post-millennium noughties, the Davos World Economic Forum became a mecca for internet billionaires, investment bankers and rock stars with a conscience (or at least an eye for publicity).

And, of course, the trendy politicians of the neo-liberal era such as our Gordon Brown (still a regular), Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. They came to trumpet the success of the Thatcherite-Reagan model of de-regulation, privatisation, speculation, financialisation, and commodification – and all the other neo-liberal buzz words that spelled more loot for the mega rich as long as the rest of us were prepared to become consumer and debt junkies to pay for it.

So, the oligarchs and financial wizards came to Davos in their private jets, sipped champagne and told the rest of us how they had cured humanity’s ills forever. But then came the neo-liberal reckoning: the 2008 crash, austerity, populism, jihad, and the extinction threat of global warming. Understandably, since then, a chastened global elite have decided to keep a lower profile. They – all 3000 of them – will still be arriving in Davos this week in their private jets or first-class airline seats. But the atmosphere is no longer triumphalist. Everyone knows the world is burning, literally and figuratively. And that’s bad for profits.

So, with amazing gall, Davos has rebranded itself as the global forum for discussing solutions to the very existential crisis that its devotees caused in the first place. This year’s agenda is focused around benign themes such as “How to Save the Planet”, “Tech for Good”, and “Fairer Economies”. They’ve even recruited Greta Thunberg as green window dressing.

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But underneath it’s the same old global companies funding the Davos party, including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Lloyds, Morgan Stanley and our own RBS. And many big oil and mining companies: BP, Chevron, Total, Saudi Aramco, Rio Tinto. And peace-loving arms manufacturers such as BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. And the shadowy world of asset management and private equity, including BlackRock.

However, I’ve detected a shift in the 2020 agenda which is interesting. Forget the worthy, goody-two-shoes lectures on environmentalism by NGO celebrities. The assembled CEOs and oligarchs use them for burnishing their green credentials before burning what’s left of the rainforest. Instead, look at which politicians turn up at Davos to use it as a platform. Newsflash: the populists are in town.

When first elected, anti-globalist Donald Trump refused to attend Davos. This year he and the whole Trump clan are coming. Of course, The Donald wants to show he is busy talking to other world leaders about important things while the Democrats back home try to impeach him. And daughter Ivanka is on European parade in preparation for her likely presidential bid in 2024 (it’s a dynasty folks). But Trump going to Davos represents more than a photo opportunity. Narcissist Trump has come to gloat.

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After assassinating Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and brokering a (largely bogus) trade deal with China, Trumpism is now ascendant on the global stage. The Donald now intends to press home his advantage – for US capitalism and for his own dynastic wealth. Trump will use the Davos platform to humiliate the divided Europeans further, the better to see off the EU as a competitor. Behind the scenes, US negotiators will do deals with Putin’s Russia – the Kremlin has pressured the Swiss into letting blacklisted Russian businessmen attend despite international sanctions.

There will be a face-to-face with the Iraqi PM to tell him to stay in line. And I’m sure Trump will insult Greta Thunberg again. In summary, Davos has morphed into a happy hunting ground for the wave of new populist regimes around the globe. Example: the authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is sending over 100 senior company bosses and politicians to Davos, as India vies to elbow China out of the way economically.

But where is the UK at Davos? Soon after last month’s General Election, Number 10 (ie Dominic Cummings) announced ministers were banned from attending Davos, ostensibly on the grounds that all hands were needed to prepare for Brexit on January 31.

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However, last Friday, there was a U-turn when pushy Chancellor Sajid Javid announced he was going anyway. The former banker is in the Cabinet to protect the interests of the City of London. Javid has his eyes on the top job when Boris calls it a day or gets caught with his trousers down again.

Yet, in the end, Davos is not the central committee of global capitalism. The tensions in the competitive world economic system run too deep to mange through political negotiation. The US-China trade deal is jerry-built and will fall apart over Trump’s attempt to block Chinese high-tech goods from western markets.

Besides, the agreement involves China buying American soya beans rather than Brazilian, which will anger Trump’s South American ally and fellow populist Jair Bolsonaro.

If anything, this 50th anniversary Davos meeting will merely serve to camouflage the intensification of global trade and tariff wars.

Davos 2020 will do the same disservice to the fight against global warming. True, international big business and finance is parroting concern over climate change and the multinationals are working hard to see if they can turn a profit from green investments – especially if publicly subsidised.

But Davos is still committed to promoting the failed model of private over-consumption, unlimited growth and production for profit not for use – albeit wrapped in liberal sensibilities.

Back in the noughties, there used to be a sane, progressive alternative to Davos in the World Social Forum (WSF) where activists and NGOs gathered in tens of thousands to discuss an alternative to globalist capitalism. These days, the WSF teeters along in a much reduced form and (sadly) has been captured by well-heeled Western NGOs with their own agendas.

Perhaps it is time the SNP government offered to host a revived WSF in Scotland, as an antidote to Davos – an WSF for the people. OK, it would generate extra CO2 emissions but the gain in returning hope to the world would surely compensate.