By Chris Giles, the FT’s economics editor
In a recent speech, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England railed against the inconsistencies of national recovery strategies, saying that, “a present there is no political mechanism for achieving that consistency”.
Will India meet global expectations? This is what was debated in a large televised room packed with serious corporate players yesterday (so this is where they are). Lots of talk about India’s role as regional power and growth rates, but then finally a brave panellist suggests that the number one priority has to be for India to develop its people. The moderator completely ignored this and went back to growth rates.
Frustrating given India really could stop its children going hungry and dying from preventable causes – with enough determination. Bangladesh, a poorer country, has made faster progress on cutting child mortality rates.
Another weird day has passed. But all days at Davos are weird. One never knows what is going on, except for the fact that, wherever one is, one would be far better off somewhere else.
The highlight of yesterday evening was the opening address of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. The speech is so classically French as to be a caricature of itself: bombastic, high-flown and verbose, it addresses a vast range of contemporary challenges, around the grand theme of moralising and containing capitalism. Yet, I have to admit, there is much in it with which I find myself in agreement.
I never thought I’d read myself saying this, but there are times when a man can tire of debates about macro-prudential flexing of Basel 2 capital requirements. It’s hard to believe, I know – maybe it’s the thin mountain air that does it.
Fortunately, there are other subjects of debate this year. Bill Clinton came to talk about Haiti, and many others have reflected on the difficulty of organising effective responses to a disaster, in a state which was fragile beforehand, and where much of the usual government infrastructure does not function. The normal difficulties of co-ordinating the efforts of different countries and agencies are compounded, leading Clinton to advocate a small group imposed from outside to force a common approach.
First session of the day is on ‘Rethinking humanitarian response’ and was again dominated by Haiti. Is it really all as chaotic as the media depicts? If the response was slow, slow compared to what exactly? What are the respective roles of the UN, government, NGOS, business and military?
I think we have the answers to these questions but there is not enough time and ongoing interest to build a shared understanding across the different sectors. Still, the room is not hostile and the concluding straw poll shows more people are optimistic than pessimistic about the scale-up in Haiti.
I’m in Davos this week to talk about an issue that I’m especially passionate about: helping mothers and children in the developing world.
Research shows that helping women stay healthy and achieve financial security has an amazing ripple effect. A healthy woman is more likely to give birth to a healthy child. She can earn money to feed her family, send her kids to school and buy medicine when they’re sick. When women thrive, their families thrive and their entire community prospers.
Earlier this week, I visited Benin and Malawi to see some of the great progress the two countries are making. In Benin I had the honour of travelling with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the first lady of France and an amazing advocate for women and children. We went to the village of Dangbo, where we visited a hospital that provides a full range of free health services for pregnant women. They have a fantastic program that integrates these services with HIV testing, counselling and treatment. We talked to several women there who had come in for prenatal care and then decided to get tested for HIV. If they test positive, they can immediately get drugs that will help keep them from passing the virus on to their babies.
It is snowing in Davos. I don’t know why that should surprise me. It is a ski resort, after all. The locals – who apparently do not simply disappear when the World Economic Forum leaves town – are pleased, since it means there will be plenty of snow on the slopes for the school half-term. But for some delegates, the snow seems to be a bit of a downer – adding to the discomfort of Davos. I saw one South African delegate struggling into his heavy coat and gloves and moaning, “this is torture.” The Chinese, however, are pleased. A senior Chinese official claims that there is an old Chinese saying that – “Heavy snow means there will be a good harvest.” This was slightly more interesting than his claim that the nations of the world “have common but differentiated responsibilities” over climate change.
I have spent much of the day in meetings of the Davos “International Media Council” which brings together a group of journalists from all over the world for off-the-record briefings with important people. This is all very flattering – but also slightly frustrating, since I am not allowed to report what they say.
The hotel vestibules were buzzing as I arrived – seems President Sarkozy pulled no punches in his address yesterday and people are up for ‘rethinking and redesigning’. But, I asked my dinner companions, to what extent? If you were going to redesign a global economic system right now, would you tolerate design flaws that leave 70m kids out of school?
But what grabs people’s attention is the Tiger Woods back-story and how well his erstwhile corporate sponsors handled the PR crisis – must say I never expected that as a Davos theme.
By Chris Giles, the FT’s economics editor
I am at a so-so lunch discussing the prospects for long-term economic growth and have just heard the best comment on global imbalances and the worst suggestion for international organisations. Both came from Angel Gurria, secretary general of the OECD.
One of the big topics of conversation here in Davos is the economy. In panel discussions and hallway conversations, people are talking about the long-term effects of the recession of 2009. While it’s true that we will see lingering unemployment and huge government deficits for quite some time, I think the big story is actually much more positive. I believe we can make amazing progress in the years ahead to improve people’s lives around the world. The key is to keep investing in innovation. It is what makes the difference between a bleak future and a bright one.
During the past two centuries, a huge number of innovations have fundamentally changed the human condition-more than doubling our life span and giving us cheap energy and more food. If we project what the world will be like ten years from now without continuing innovation in health, energy, or food, the picture is quite dark. Health costs for the rich will keep escalating, forcing tough trade-offs, and the poor will be stuck in the bad situation they are in today. We will have to increase the price of energy to reduce consumption, and the poor will suffer from both this higher cost and the effects of climate change. We will have big food shortages because we won’t have enough land to feed the world’s growing population.
Most editors of news organisations spend a lot of time worrying about their business models these days, so it is unusual to talk to one who has no concerns about his.
On June 14th, Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first story going out over its terminals. The story was about corporate bonds and was written by a journalist who is still employed at Bloomberg.
When a French president praises capitalism an Englishman is conditioned to smell un rat, indeed a whole nest of them. And Sarkozy did not disappoint, in his grand opening address at Davos.
He offered three interpretations of the causes of the crisis: global imbalances, short-termism, and bankers being tempted into speculation and away from real banking. Arguably they point to quite different solutions, but they were all grist to his moulin.
Focus on the first day, amongst other things, is on the high levels of unemployment and consequent risk of more protectionism. As unemployment is already at a very high level – an average of 10 per cent in most western economies and youth unemployment at least double that rate – social stability and long-term social damage are major issues.
As a jobless recovery kicks in, particularly in mature economies, the problem is likely to worsen and, as a result, protectionism will rear its head even more.
Organisations such as the ILO and WTO are pushing for more social programmes to cushion structural unemployment. Business generally argues that Western European economies, in particular, are not flexible enough. In America, although structural change is equally difficult and unpleasant, there is a mobility and flexibility that is absent from Western Europe, where higher taxation and social charges make plant location and similar investment decisions more difficult.
I spent my day being interviewed by other media organisations and preparing my Friday column. So I did not attend any sessions. I rely on the excellent reporting of my colleagues to tell me what is happening in Davos, just like all the other readers of the FT and ft.com. But I have still managed to learn something from chance encounters here.
So what have I learned so far?
First, my criticism of the “Volcker rule” in banking, subject of my column this morning, is controversial. The desire of many non-bankers to cut the bankers down to size is, even here, quite noticeable. Have I gone soft on bankers? I do hope not. But this new addition to the already pressing weight of uncertainty worries me greatly.
By Chris Giles, the FT’s economics editor
I have a terrible problem when I listen to chief executives talking about what they do for the world:how they give people livelihoods; how their fine management has given thousands of people jobs; how families would be destitute were it not for them. My problem is that I thought slavery had ended – quite some time ago.