017_Global12_InSight_2013

Global 13

Global Insight2013 D wigs, or b) an unrivalled forum for frank discussion of the-avos, the snowy January haven of the business elite, iseither a) a gold-plated ego-fest for the world’s top big failings of global capitalism and possible solutions. Tick a) or b) according to your preference. Or tick both. Ever since the credit crisis began five years ago, some of the wealthiest and smartest people in the world have flocked to the Swiss mountain resort (though some bankers stayed away, to avoid the limelight) to talk about why it happened and how to prevent the next one. The gathering itself has been going for more than 40 years. This year’s snappy title is ‘Resilient Dynamism’. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) website, this means leaders from both public and private sectors must be willing to take risks to spur much-needed growth for the world economy, ‘dynamic’ growth in the words of the WEF. These leaders also need to be resilient, if the risk-taking goes horribly wrong. There are a thousand ways to interpret this. Perhaps it suggests governments should rein back on austerity and focus on growth and jobs. Maybe it means businesses should stop sitting on cash and start investing and taking risks again. How much can this kind of talking shop make businesses or even economies more dynamic? If networking is a measure of dyna- mism, Davos qualifies as a roaring success. Everyone does it and it The forum welcomes dissenting voices alongside political and economic leaders is often shameless. I once watched a prominent economist careless- ly hang around the BBC studio in Davos for several hours on the deed, it was the biggest source of concern for last year’s delegates. pretence of having free coffee and somewhere to sit. In fact, he was Perhaps, though, we expect too much from this event in terms of clear greeting each of the luminaries as they emerged from the studio, and measurable outcomes. If you have two and half thousand of the with fake surprise that they happened to be there at the same time. world’s smartest and most entrepreneurial beings in one small space, I shouldn’t cast stones. As a journalist and broadcaster, in the you naturally expect a lot. In fact, the Swiss businessman Professor space of half an hour I could meet and interview Tony Blair, the boss Klaus Schwab who founded the WEF has never pretended that Davos is of Brazilian oil giant Petrobras and the founder of Wikipedia. There a decision-making body. He says it is committed to “improving the state are drawbacks though, to being the humblest life-form swimming of the world” by engaging society’s leaders to shape agendas. in this rich soup. One problem used to be the lack of studio space. I The forum is not just about the views of the powerful. Every year, interviewed a former Federal Reserve governor, both perched on my alongside the political leaders and the business nabobs, dissenting voices unmade hotel bed, and both reeling from the stink of ripe cheese in are invited to speak, including NGOs such as Greenpeace, student lead- the fridge – bought because there was no time for hot meals. ers, spiritual leaders and anti-poverty groups. They and the billionaires The experience of the C-suite brigade is different: exclusive par- grapple with issues such as climate change, health and inequality, as ties hosted by venture capital firms, invigorating skiing and gourmet well as global economic imbalances. It’s high-minded and earnest, the delights. The networking never stops. Pitches are made in 30 seconds, stated aim to “elaborate bold ideas and promote innovative solutions”. careers boosted in schmoozing over coffee, and mouth-watering deals Professor Schwab himself has been outspoken about capitalism, sug- agreed in the nooks and crannies of the Davos Congress Centre. gesting that in its current form, it “no longer fits the world around us”. And that takes me back to this year’s focus of ‘Resilient Dyna- If you take the optimistic view, maybe there’s a slow distillation mism’, and catchy titles meant to reflect the zeitgeist. In January of change that may drip out of all those panels and committees and 2008, the motto was the ‘Power of Collaborative Innovation’. A plenary sessions. Perhaps business will be done differently as a coincidence, perhaps, that later that year we reaped the rewards result, even if it’s at the edges. We’ll never know. of untrammelled innovation of the financial stripe, when Lehman There is no way, either, to measure whether the world economy will Brothers collapsed, triggering the worst crisis since the Jazz Age. be made more dynamic or more resilient by this year’s beanfeast. The In 2009, the overall theme was ‘Shaping the Post-Crisis World’: one certainty is that the seething crowd of business leaders will hob- quite rightly a great deal of breast-beating went on. The following year nob and find new and inventive ways to make money together. was more optimistic with ‘Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild’. A bleaker So I have a plan. Maybe the coveted WEF passes that delegates mood came in 2011 with ‘Shared Norms for the New Reality’, and by wear should each contain a listening device to record all the busi- 2012 we reached ‘The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models’. ness deals done in the chilly environs of Davos. WEF staff could You do wonder whether any of these mottos bore fruit. Have listen in and estimate the size of these in dollars. The total might we rethought and rebuilt, or shaped the post-crisis world anew? bring a smile to all our faces, and lasting respect for the real eco- The rethinking may have been done by roomfuls of ‘Davos Man’ nomic stimulus from Davos. Forget ‘Resilient Dynamism’, the (they are mostly men) but the rebuilding is less certain. Financial theme would be ‘Deals – Bring ‘Em On!’ regulations have been tightened in some countries but there’s still fierce debate over whether it’s gone far enough, or too far. Take the Lesley Curwen presents BBC business programmes, includingBusi- continuing arguments over the Dodd Frank Act in the USA: wheth- ness Daily for the World Service, plus business news onToday and the er it’s stifling business or letting it run riot. Global capitalism has BBC News Channel. She has made award-winning documentaries on been discussed ad nauseum but little changed. The eurozone crisis economics and personal finance staggers on despite hundreds of Davos hours spent debating it. In- globalfirst quarter 2013 www.global-briefing.org l17


Global 13
To see the actual publication please follow the link above