The World Economic Forum — often described as a gathering of the world's business, government, and financial elites — will touch down in Davos, Switzerland this week. It's currently being much discussed and blogged about, especially given that the repercussions of the financial crisis are still being felt. Unemployment in the U.S. is still alarmingly high, at 8.5 percent. Europe still seems pretty far from fixing the deep problems of the euro and of averting a wider sovereign debt crisis. Growth in the developing world is slowing.
So in a way, Davos 2012 isn't about elitist hobnobbing but rather about Davos saving...itself. The pressing problems of the world aren't on the agenda. The ongoing economic travails of the West are. Writing for Reuters, former White House official Larry Summers offers the following:
At Davos and beyond there will be many who argue that top priority must be given to increasing business confidence and that government stimulus is useless at best and potentially counterproductive. There will be others - more economists than businesspeople -- who will argue that top priority must be given to government stimulus and that issues about business confidence are red herrings.
Summers says that the solution will comes from a synthesis of both views. Great, but this is a far cry from the original vision of the WEF, not to mention a retreat from some of the significant political cooperation brokered at previous Davos meetings.
It's hard to get away from the sense that Davos isn't operating out of quite the well of confidence it enjoyed in the years before the financial crisis. From 1971 to 2009, the end of January was a time to celebrate capitalism. Now the mission is to figure out how to repair the collateral damage that capitalism's near-death-experience has caused.
I've followed Davos for a number of years now. It's always an entertaining mix of policy wonkery, cheerleading for markets, political glam rock, futurism, gossip, and envy. A couple of years ago I decided it was "naff" — British English slang for "tacky" (Not that I wouldn't go if ever I were invited!). I thought it had become a bit too intensely discussed and parsed: the parties, the status, and so on.
But I now think that it's essential — because Davos finally has a really big problem to solve, one that just doesn't seem to want to go away and let everyone resume business as usual.
Better come through in 2012, global elites!