Looking for contrition in Davos

By Felix Salmon
January 26, 2010
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".

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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.

Now that it’s clear that many of them were leading us off that cliff, there’s still no sign of contrition, although you can be sure that a few fingers will be pointed at various past attendees who aren’t here to defend themselves. Is anybody here seriously examining the idea that Davos was institutionally responsible, at least in part, for the economic and financial catastrophe which befell the world in 2008? I’ll be on the lookout for that over the next few days. But I suspect that the preening potentates will be far too busy giving themselves the job of rebuilding the world to stop and ask where they went wrong in building the last one, and whether they might actually owe the rest of us a large collective apology.


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Indeed, arrogant central planners cause most of the world’s problems.

Posted by dWj | Report as abusive

You expect contrition from amoral sociopaths? The new world order is right there in your face in large print, yet most of you will still deny it exists. Amazing.

Posted by Miltdog | Report as abusive

While there are a few who truely attempt to improve the human condition (thanks, Bill & Melinda) by and large the corporate leaders must be suffering from oxygen deprivation – possibly due to their perch way up on the top floor of some mega-project. No, Mr. CEO, economic stimulus does not mean purchasing another diamond bracelet or a 3rd house in the Azores. It means the average wage earner can feel confident in their continued employment, the average investor is getting an honest return on their retirement savings, and the average student can afford an education. No one, anywhere, is worth the obscene “benefits” that wall street wallahs claim are their entitlement. While I applaud the principle of rewarding those who work harder, innovate and create, there would seem to be a need to cap that compensation at a reasonable level – say 100 times the average wage? Certainly the leaders of our society can live comfortably on 100 times the wage at which most everyone else recieves. And maybe, with the need for fewer bonus payments, the trickle-down effect will actually make its way to my retirement savings accounts.

Posted by PCBC | Report as abusive

Wish there was live streaming video of the whole event so that we could drink every time we hear “New World Order,” or “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one,” or “The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force,” or “There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons, and the word ‘council’ must be restored to its original meaning. Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but the decision will be made by one man,” or “The art of leadership. . . consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention. . . . The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category,” or “Nature . . . puts living creatures on this globe and watches the free play of forces. She then confers the master’s right on her favourite child, the strongest in courage and industry . . . The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel.”There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons . . . Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but the decision will be made by one man,” or “From millions of men . . . one man must step forward who with apodictic force will form granite principles from the wavering idea-world of the broad masses and take up the struggle for their sole correctness, until from the shifting waves of a fre thought-world there will arise a brazen cliff of solid unity in faith and will,” or “For there is one thing we must never forget… the majority can never replace the man. And no more than a hundred empty heads make one wise man will an heroic decision arise from a hundred cowards.”


Posted by Uncle_Billy | Report as abusive


If so, we are a pathetic, accursed species, which needs to be eradicated. Therefore, I must reject it. That was a provocative post, however, and I’ll have to give it more thought.

Posted by Miltdog | Report as abusive

Thanks Felix. For once you hit it right on.

Posted by Gotthardbahn | Report as abusive

Hey Flix – see if any of the billionaires over there want a poker game. Maybe you can make back that $500….

Posted by RiverTheAce | Report as abusive

This along with the Bilderbergers and all those other think tanks have agendas that don’t include you or I. Here is a Dadism I’ll share: “Son, the greedy just get greedier.”

Posted by Jonesy | Report as abusive

It’s disillusioning to see someone of Felix’s intelligence and breadth of knowledge playing this relentless blame game.

I felt similarly when Joe Stiglitz effectively committed malpractice during a recent Bloomberg interview by denying that the global savings glut had much to do with the current situation.

Posted by Mega | Report as abusive

You’re so right, Mega. The entire collapse of the world’s economy due to a huge debt bubble blown up by precisely these bankers couldn’t possible be their fault! Felix is a vicious, vandalous hack for attacking these, poor innocent victims of forces well beyond their control!

And that Stiglitz guy! What does he know? Ph.D’s are a dime a dozen, what is he doing attacking our Captains of Finance?

I tell you what – I’ll put myself in the shoes of one of those poor hapless victims for just one week, just to feel their suffering. Of course, I’ll also take my pro-rata share of their $30-50M in annual compensation for my week of enduring the slings and arrows. Any other commenters want to take a week?

Posted by Dollared | Report as abusive

Ph.D’s ARE a dime a dozen. Nobel laureates aren’t, but that didn’t stop this particular honoree from getting it majorly wrong.

And yeah, sure, the recycling of trillions of exported greenbacks was the fault of the Davos crowd. Sterilization of capital inflows by exporting nations and Fed-enabled spending sprees had nothing to do with it.

Now go back to dreaming of barricades and guillotines.

Posted by Mega | Report as abusive

Mega wrote about “this relentless blame game”. That’s what the demand for criminal punishment is called, when it is demanded by Those on the Other Side of Your Position. When the crime is committed by Them, then Your Side calls it “accountability”.

Posted by moebadderman | Report as abusive

Here’s the dilemma. If you admit you’ve done wrong, people may come after you to pay restitution or worse (so your lawyers will advise you not to do that), but until you admit you did wrong, people will not be able to forgive you and thus will continue to distrust you and hold a grudge against you.

So here’s your choice, don’t admit you’re wrong and CYA, or admit you’re wrong and give the people who have been wronged the chance to get over it.

Posted by MarkGoulston | Report as abusive

Rumor has it the ticket to get at this thing is the Bilderberg breakout session in the spa. Entry only upon display of a special signet ring and delivery of a secret handshake involving tickling of palms with middle fingers.

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