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.
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.