Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Davos power rankings: Who’s up, who’s down and who’s out?

Ian Bremmer
Jan 30, 2013 17:05 UTC

After another year of panels, colloquia, summits, meetings, whispers and skiing, the Davos emissaries headed home with a few new connections and catchphrases (“Resilient Dynamism” forever!). After four years of gloomy predictions and summits dominated by post-financial crisis concerns, this year the mood was significantly more positive. While I would argue that the pendulum of sentiment has swung too far, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Based on my observations at the 2013 World Economic Forum, here’s a power ranking of who’s up, who’s down and who’s off the radar—according to Davos attendees, at least.

UP

United States: The politics of Washington were all but forgotten. With the so-called fiscal cliff standoff resolved and no current budget battle hurdles (at least for the next few weeks), there were no urgent crises to distract Davos from the strong American economic fundamentals. Instead, the chatter was about insourcing, the energy revolution and the positive growth outlook this year – all sources of a (perhaps inflated) exuberance.

Eurozone: Almost every eurozone leader of merit turned up, and so the chatter was good. (Davos is an easy place to please, as long as you put in the effort.) Mario Draghi and Angela Merkel charmed, but Christine Lagarde was the belle of the ball. She stole the show with her keynote speech; one of her strongest messages was the need to narrow the gender gap, not only from an equal rights perspective but also because “it makes economic sense to improve the situation of women.” The Europeans, it was clear, had reached bottom, and are now quite ready to make their way back from whence they came. While they’re not there yet, they’re definitely closer than last year.

Japan: For the first time since I can remember, the Japanese delegation seemed to have a certain confidence and an admirable level of coordination. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dialed in via satellite to give a brief address; Japanese representatives had their talking points in order; and Japan Night – a party 15 minutes from the Congress Centre (somewhat of a trek for the rarified air of Davos) – was a huge success, with 1,000 attendees. Most importantly, people seem, for now, comfortable with “Abenomics” and its reliance on government-supplied stimulus.

Sub-Saharan Africa: There were a record number of heads of state and ministers from Africa this year, and, unlike in the past, they played a central role. They were on all sorts of major panels and weren’t just consigned to talking about African issues. This year, many African players were seen as emerging markets in their own right.

Too much of a good thing: the risks of information

Ian Bremmer
Jan 23, 2013 17:53 UTC

Another year, another Davos. Last year’s World Economic Forum was overwhelmingly about Europe’s existential crisis. But Europe has quieted down, at least for now, and so we’re entering the first non-crisis Davos in years. But that doesn’t mean things have settled into, as Mohamed El-Erian puts it, a ‘new normal.’ It remains difficult to find markets with good risk/return, or an area of the world without serious geopolitical tensions. 

Faced with this ‘new abnormal,’ where the only certainty is that shocks will arise from unexpected places, what is this year’s Davos about? 

Everything and nothing. The United States, the Middle East, emerging markets, Japan – all of these are on the agenda, but they’re not all necessarily connected. The emissaries at Davos are in the midst of their own locavore movement – their agendas are remarkably domestic.

The world’s year of reckoning

Ian Bremmer
Jan 30, 2012 17:11 UTC

DAVOS–If 2011 was the year of the protestor, 2012, at least where the World Economic Forum is concerned, is the year of the reckoning. Through the events of the Arab Spring, major power vacuums have been created in countries all over the Middle East. More governments, such as Syria’s, are likely to topple. But the time to start thinking about what’s next for countries like Egypt is already here.

The thing is, it’s coming at an inconvenient time for Western democracy. Having long held themselves as the global models for governance and economic structure, Western Europe and the U.S. have in recent years shown their warts as never before. That has opened the door for state capitalist models — like China’s — to take the stage. And the simple fact that new models for how countries and economies should work are even being considered is a blow to the Western world’s power and prestige. Obviously, well before the G-7 system broke down, China was already on a path of state capitalism, and that has turned out to be a successful course for that country to chart. But here’s the problem: While it has led to wealth and a rise in living standards for the Chinese, it hasn’t led to more democracy.

Here at Davos, and in capitals around the world, the paths countries should chart for themselves in the future is always topic A, and what we’ve learned over these last years is that transforming those countries and indeed the world is about a lot more than simply swapping out the players who legislate and lead. Look at the precarious situation in Egypt. Consider Putin’s long hold on power in Russia. For that matter, look at the situations in many countries on the euro zone periphery. Going down that list, nations that have simply replaced one power-grabbing leader with another are in trouble. (In Russia’s case, that leader has simply replaced himself.) Countries that have revolved leadership without addressing deeper institutional weaknesses are not setting themselves up for success in the long run.

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