Davos Notebook

from Felix Salmon:

Why it’s safe to ignore Davos

Lawrence Delevingne has got Davos completely wrong: his list of "The Only 12 Davos Panels Worth Paying Attention To" is in fact a list of the 12 panels which can be safely ignored by just about all the delegates here. Larry Summers is more likely to turn up with only one chin than he is to commit anything approaching news in his Saturday discussion with Charlie Rose. People looking for interesting investment ideas would probably be better served by something like the "What is Life?" panel on Wednesday -- and they'll certainly find it much more interesting.

As Davos has embraced increasing numbers of journalists over the years, the alpine gabfest has developed a public face where CEOs and VIPs give us all the benefit of their best thinking on issues of global importance. But that's not really what Davos is about. At its best, Davos is a way of learning a great deal about things you didn't know you had any interest in; of meeting people you'd never otherwise meet or even know existed; and of giving human three-dimensionality to people whom you'd previously thought of just as simplistic caricatures. (At its worst, of course, Davos is a malign enabler of systemically-damaging hubris, but that's a different story.)

In any case, if you think of Davos as some kind of Sunday-morning talk show where you passively sit back and listen to Important People talk about international capital flows and the global macroeconomic outlook, you're pretty much missing the point. When Davos works, it does so by bringing interesting people together and sparking conversations. But those conversations usually happen on the sidelines, on couches in the conference center or in hotel bars around town. They rarely happen in the formal sessions, and they never happen in the big formal sessions with heads of state and other marquee names.

The fact is that if you're not here, Davos is not for you. You can try to watch a few webcast panels, but you'll probably drift off very quickly. It's the action off-screen which keeps the plutocrats coming back.

Davos VIP dropouts

The world’s top politicians are dropping out from the WEF‘s highly publicised list of top VIPs.

wefprepareLast-minute cancellations happen more or less every year, but this year it’s at an alarming rate.

Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama, mired in domestic political turmoil and facing busy Parliament sessions at home, has pulled out of  the forum and is sending his strategy minister Sengoku instead.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai  has decided not to make a detour from London where he’s due to attend a conference on Afghanistan this week.

from The Great Debate UK:

If Davos wants to run the world, it has to show some leadership


- Matthew Bishop is the U.S. business editor of The Economist and co-author, along with Michael Green, of "Road from Ruin – How to Revive Capitalism and put America Back on Top", published by Crown Business, Jan. 2010. The opinions expressed are their own. -

Who runs the world? Conspiracy theorists have long believed that the secretive annual gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Swiss ski resort of Davos makes the real decisions in our globalized economy. If only it did.

A few years ago Davos was the focus of anti-globalization anger. Protestors tried to storm this secretive citadel of capitalist power, they even set up their own rival World Social Forum to be, as they saw it, a legitimate alternative to the WEF. That challenge failed in part because the World Social Forum has, frankly, been a bit of a joke. The WEF itself has also changed. Social activists of all kinds now participate in the meetings, journalists have plenty of access, and the proceedings are now broadcast to the world via Youtube.

Iceland tops WEF’s equal opportunity list

ICELAND/Bad timing girls!  Iceland claims the top spot in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, making it the best country in 2009 in terms of equal opportunity.

Women in Iceland play a bigger role in the labour market, hold more leadership positions, have higher education achievement and better health and survival rates than any other country.

Shame the news comes just after Iceland tumbled into its deepest recession on record, following the  collapse of all three of its banks in 2008 that left it owing $60 billion to foreign lenders. That’s $180,750 for every man, woman and child on the rocky, frozen northern Altantic outcrop. So much for women bringing kinder, gentler leadership – or were women swept into power as the clean-up crew?

from Felix Salmon:

Looking for contrition in Davos

So I've arrived in snowy Davos, where with typical modesty the miscellaneous moguls will attempt to "Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild". (Seriously, that's the official slogan this year.) The official "purpose" page is full of claptrap of the highest order -- a "Network of Global Agenda Councils" "driving the rethink" over here; "an unprecedented multistakeholder dialogue " over there; and on top of it all, naturally, "a collaborative platform that integrates Web 2.0 technology".

Or, to put it another way, there's no indication whatsoever that anybody at the World Economic Forum actually Gets It. Davos is great at throwing a couple of archbishops onto a panel with Niall Ferguson entitled "Restoring Faith in Economics" (geddit?) -- but what I see none of in the programme is an indication that much if not all of the crisis was caused by the arrogance of Davos Man and by his unshakeable belief that the combined efforts of the world's richest and most powerful individuals would surely make the world a better, rather than a worse, place. Excitement about the opportunities afforded by the Great Moderation (as the credit bubble was known before it burst), financial innovation, the rise of the bankers -- Davos was ahead of the curve on all of them. And as the annual symposium of smug sermonizing became increasingly established, it served as a crucial reinforcement mechanism.

It's not like CEOs and billionaires (and billionaire CEOs) need any more flattery and ego-stroking than they get on a daily basis, but Davos gives them more than that: it allows them to flatter and ego-stroke each other, in public. They invariably leave even more puffed-up and sure of themselves than when they arrived, when in hindsight what the world really needed was for these men (it's still very much a boys' club) to be shaken out of their complacency and to ask themselves some tough questions about whether in fact they were leading us off a precipice.

Davos 2010 live coverage

Five themes for Davos

Top (L-R): Steve Clarke, Natsuko Waki, Gerard Wynn, Martin Howell
Bottom (L-R): Peter Thal Larsen, Felix Salmon, Ben Hirschler, Krista Hughes

Reuters will have a multimedia team of 20 journalists plus editors and three columnists on site covering the Jan. 27-31 World Economic Forum annual meeting.

This year we are focusing our news coverage around five global themes that are shaping economics, politics and investment opportunities in 2010.  Our in-depth reports will draw on the expertise of our specialist correspondents from around the world to help inform the Davos conversation. These reports will be complemented by on-the-ground coverage, exclusive text and TV interviews, as well as a live blog aggregating the best Davos coverage on the web and on Twitter. We’ll be exploring the probing questions behind efforts to rebuild the world economy and financial system two years after the credit crisis.

from The Great Debate:

Business must take the lead on carbon management


Léo Apotheker is CEO of SAP. The views expressed are his own.

Most people who followed the Copenhagen climate talks in December will have been disappointed.

While the agreement brokered by the group of countries that included the United States, Brazil, China, India and South Africa and ratified by most of the attending countries is being touted as a success of sorts, it fell far short of the expectations that had built up, and achieved very little in concrete terms.

Now with the World Economic Forum approaching, the issue of climate change and sustainability will once again dominate discussions among the business and political leaders who attend the annual gathering in Davos.

Davos Man turns 40

Davos Man2 Many happy returns or midlife crisis?

The annual talkfest in the Alps records its 40th birthday this year but the rich and powerful will hardly be in celebratory mood as problems pile up in the post-crisis world.

How to withdraw the trillions of dollars in stimulus that helped the world avoid a rerun of the Great Depression, without spooking markets all over again?

What to do in the face of the world’s lukewarm response to the hot topic of climate change?

On wealth versus well-being

Back in the Middle Ages, no-one took any notice of Copernicus when he said the Earth was not at the centre of the universe.

Stewart Wallis, executive director of London-based “think-and-do-tank” the New Economics Foundation and one of the thousands attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, can sympathise.

“I don’t mind being called an idealistic idiot,” he told Reuters, with reference to a philosophy he summed up as “the macro-economic text-books are works of fiction”.