I’m surprised, but pleased, to see this coming from FT editor Lionel Barber, in his Hugh Cudlipp lecture today:
Davos, in 2011, was the year when the cynics were finally proven wrong. Long derided as a sybaritic alpine gabfest, the World Economic Forum astonished the world with what it was capable of this year, deftly leveraging the talk around its chosen theme — “shared norms for the new reality” — into an effective and timely intervention in Egypt. The Forum’s slogan — “committed to improving the state of the world” — became reality, as the actions of a small and powerful few atop a distant Swiss alp managed to give shape and direction to what would otherwise have remained inchoate and dangerous demonstrations in the volatile North African hotspot.
The best panel I went to at Davos this year—and I got the impression that most of the other people there would say the same thing—was a lunch session today on going “beyond microfinance” when it comes to providing financial services to the unbanked around the world. The implosion of the microfinance sector in Andhra Pradesh has clearly had a sobering effect on much of the well-intentioned professionals here in Davos, and it’s clear that a lot of the hope that surrounded microfinance is now moving on to other things, especially mobile banking.
One of the big changes to the ecology of the Davos conference center this year, after its $37 million revamp, is that there’s now a whole level at the top which is off-limits to the working press and accessible only to fully-fledged delegates with coveted white cards. There are a couple of conference rooms up there — called Aspen 1 and Aspen 2 — which is normally no big deal, given that the working press isn’t allowed in to conference sessions anyway.
Remember those off-the record comments by “top executives from Goldman Sachs and Standard Chartered” which indicated that the era of contrition had come to an end? Well, they’re on the record now, splashed all over the front page of this morning’s FT. Goldman’s Gary Cohn is coming out swinging, saying that the real danger to the global economy is now posed by unregulated non-banks, while Peter Sands of Standard Chartered reckons that most bank regulations will no more prevent another crisis than seatbelts on airplanes will prevent a plane crash.
Back in October, Mike Elk dug into the weird way in which various well-regarded liberal activists, including Tom Matzzie, Lanny Davis, and CREW, were suddenly campaigning aggressively alongside the for-profit education industry. Unsurprisingly, there was money involved, and a lot of it seems to have flowed from John Sperling, the chair of the Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix, and is a major funder of progressive organizations.