I am now in Davos and preparing to play my part in “shaping the post-crisis world”, which is the official title of this year’s forum. I must say this strikes me as over-optimistic. The words “shaping” and “post-crisis” seem misplaced. (I will grudgingly accept “world”.)
But what would be a better title for this year’s Davos? “Sinking in quicksand” is closer to the spirit of the times; “Buried under an avalanche of debt” acknowledges our Alpine surroundings; “Up shit creek without a paddle” has an appealing directness and shares the same length and meter as “Shaping the post-crisis world” – so that is my favourite for the moment. But I am open to suggestions.
A year ago, denial was still very much in the air at the World Economic Forum. The Davos consensus embraced a “small problems scenario.” Most believed that any recession would be confined to the US – and that it would be short and mild. A global recession was simply inconceivable. In particular, a decoupled developing world – especially China-centric Asia – was thought to be largely insulated from any problems in the developed world and perfectly capable, in the view of many, of taking over as a new engine of global growth. And in light of a Fed-led policy stimulus, a US cyclical recovery was presumed to be just around the corner – and a pretty solid one at that. The financial system was not seen as an impediment to any of the above. In short, a year ago, the Davos consensus believed that every dark cloud had a silver lining.
No prizes for guessing what is worrying the 2,500-odd delegates due to arrive in Davos this week (albeit probably not too visibly in their corporate jets this year). Within minutes of the World Economic Forum permitting delegates to sign up for events at the meeting, which starts on Wednesday, some sessions were hugely oversubscribed.
A worthy debate on how corporations can affirm the “community” (featuring Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase) was not one of these; yesterday that still had plenty of space.
The road to Davos this morning was clear and straight-forward, unlike the many discussions that will take place over the next few days. The dominant topic will, of course, be the global economic crisis, but there will be many other crucial discussions worthy of attention, including stabilising the Middle East, evaluating new methods of food and clean water production, climate change, addressing health care needs for aging populations (and preventing epidemics), poverty, declining education standards, and learning about key areas of technology innovation that can address some of the above issues.
Just limbering up for Davos and saving the world in four days up a Swiss alp in the snow in January – and it’s snowing today. Surprisingly there’s a record registration level of around 2,500 people, around 40 heads of government and key business people, trade unionists, expert advisors and NGOs – and the usual plethora of management consultants and investment banks. But everyone’s going to be more sombre this year – not so many parties or movie stars.
For the first time ever, after 20 or so years, all the four largest advertising and marketing services parent or holding companies are represented here. Perhaps a surprising fact – maybe some of us have just discovered the world. Although I’m sure a number of people will pull out at the last moment, due to the current economic pressures.