The ancient Greeks thought that “those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.” For them, the surest way to destroy a person is to fill him or her with success, power, prosperity and fame. Excessive success induces inordinate self-confidence, which inevitably leads them to make disastrous mistakes and to failure. Hubris, they called it.
Many centuries later we got the Brics: poor countries whose economic and geopolitical success and influence – and hubris – is growing quickly. And its not just these countries. HSBC, reckons that if current trends continue, by 2050 the 100 largest economies in the world will include (in addition to the Brics and traditional leaders such as the US, Germany and Japan) countries such as the Philippines, Peru, Bangladesh and Colombia. Of course, the critical assumption is “if current trends continue”.
Here is where it is worth mentioning the meeting hosted by the World Economic Forum in Davos. After many years of attending these meetings, I have become a great believer in the existence – and the power – of hubris. I do not know if it is the gods or human nature, but success and failure are too frequently inextricably linked and the Davos meeting offers an extraordinary laboratory to observe the phenomenon.
As I was recently talking in Davos with Turks, Brazilians, Indians, Indonesians, Russians and Chinese, the symptoms of the many fallen celebrities who no longer stalk the corridors of this Swiss mountain town seemed just below the surface. Are the gods plotting to put these new arrogant characters in their place? Could it be that a crash is in the future of these emerging countries? Could this be one of the most important warnings coming from this year’s meeting on the Alps? Continue reading »