Attendees at the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos summit last month held several discussions in which they promised to amplify authoritarian measures.

The three-day conference, also called the Annual Meeting of the New Champions, took place June 27–29 in Tianjin, China. Over 1,500 government, corporate and academic leaders attended, including a large delegation from Saudi Arabia.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang kicked off the summit with an address in which he called for more globalization and said there will be more public health crises.

“COVID-19 will not be the last public health crisis humanity faces. Global public health governance needs to be enhanced,” said Qiang.

Other notable moments included a panel discussion titled “China’s Economy: The Big Rebound?” during which Cornell Professor Eswar Prasad advocated for governments using central bank digital currencies to control citizens’ purchases.

central bank digital currency (CBDC) is a digital currency issued and governed by a central bank. In the case of the United States, a CBDC would be a digital currency issued and controlled directly by the Federal Reserve.

CBDC is like cash in that it is backed by the Fed and its value is manipulated by the Fed’s monetary policies. However, whereas cash transactions are anonymous, CBDC transactions are not, as confirmed by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

But anonymity would not be the only casualty of CBDC. Digital currencies offer governments the “benefit,” says Prasad, of controlling what taxpayers purchase.

“If you think about the benefits of digital money, there are huge potential gains. It’s not just about digital forms of physical currency. You can have programmability [like] units of central bank currency with expiry dates,” he said.

“You could have . . . a potentially better — or some people might see it, a darker — world, where the government decides that units of central bank money can be used to purchase some things but not other things that it deems less desirable, like say, ammunition or drugs or pornography or something of the sort. And that is very powerful in terms of the use of a CBDC.”

Summer Davos featured another speaking event titled “How to Stay Within Planetary Boundaries – Carrot or Stick?” which focused on whether to incentivize or threaten people to comply with “climate goals”. The event was hosted by Nature Energy Editor Nicky Dean, who warned that people may need to be punished if they do not comply with climate mandates.

“We are—broadly speaking—agreed that we need to get on track towards a net-zero, climate-safe and nature-positive future, but we know this will not be easy. And we’re going to need to change behaviors of both individuals but also the way that our industries and corporations and also our governments work and practice,” said Dean.

“We’re going to need to do this through a mixture of carrots and hopefully perhaps not so many sticks in some kind of mix, and there’s a very active and live debate as to how we go about this. But we’re likely to see an increasing move towards more stick-like interventions into the future as things worsen if we’re not able to act.”

Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs Director Ma Jun agreed with Dean and said “we need sticks” while Sunway University Sunway Centre for Planetary Health Executive Director Jemilah Mahmood said sticks are needed “short term” and carrots “long term”. Mahmood added that  “there are worse things coming” than COVID-19.