Uninvited guests

Three grace notes as this year’s Davos stumbles towards a gloomy conclusion.

There’s an old saw, often used in government circles, that when it comes to public policy debates, if you’re not at the table, you’re certain to be on the menu.

The bankers have learned that lesson this year. Their low-key presence has itself achieved a high profile in the public prints. In their absence all the world’s problems have been laid at their door. No one would deny that in this economic car crash a high percentage of the blame should be ascribed to the financial sector. But not 100 per cent, I think. Bank salaries were exaggerated, definitely, but others benefited from the boom also, and should similarly have known better. There is an irony that an event strongly supported by finance should have bitten the feeding hand so firmly.

Second, some new words and phrases have entered the vocabulary: deglobalisation, for example, and financial mercantilism—both unwelcome arrivals at the Davos party. They weren’t invited, but muscled into many debates, without a World Economic Forum badge. Will they come again next year? I suspect so. Indeed it would be better to address those issues more explicitly. The costs of national approaches to global problems will be seen in the coming months.

Finally, the significance of the April G20 summit in London has grown. There is clearly a need for more global co-ordination of policy responses. Gordon Brown has been here in the last two days, emphasising the ambitious agenda he has in mind. He has raised expectations, so delivery will be crucial. He knows it, but we are still in a phase when individual governments are putting forward idiosyncratic proposals. The Sherpas, led by Jon Cunliffe in Downing Street, have a job on their hands to distill some propositions that can achieve consensus.

Sir Howard Davies is director of The London School of Economics and Political Science

Davos blog 2009

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