Notable abscences

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.

I note that Bill Clinton, whom I warned last year was in danger of tarnishing his Davos brand by being nasty about Barack Obama on the US campaign trial, seems to have bounced back.

The absence of any senior figures from the US administration at the World Economic Forum this year has left Mr Clinton to re-occupy his place as the well-loved philanthropist and former president who represents the acceptable – even loveable – face of the US in Europe.

It’s a grey day in Davos, in every possible sense. With their celebrated attention to detail, the Swiss have provided weather to match the mood. Once or twice, the sun threatened an appearance, but was quickly obscured. And there’s not a green shoot in sight.

Why are people here then, one might ask, if it’s gloom and doom from cappucino to gluwein? I guess the answer may simply be that they come in search of some mutual reassurance.

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.

Here I am in Davos and where is everyone else?

A lot of chief executives have signed up for the World Economic Forum but seem to be getting cold feet, so to speak, at the last minute. Today, we learned that Bob Diamond, president of Barclays, will not attend after all.

Mr Diamond joins a number of investment banks in heavily slimming down their presence here. Goldman has cancelled its usual party and Lloyd Blankfein, its chairman and chief executive, is staying at home.

Davos blog 2009

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