Davos 2012

January 31, 2012

I attended a Civil Society event where I spoke with representatives from human rights organizations, the union/labor movement, and NGOs working to address some of the hardest problems in society. I had a lunch with a university president talking about the role of technology in higher ed. I had dinner with an esteemed physicist, an author I admire, and a network scientist where we talked about how to engender and support creativity. I gave advice to a group of women trying to combat the societal valuation of consumption. I brainstormed with a group of young attendees who had done amazing work in the education sector around the globe. I attended a dinner with complexity analysts, newspaper executives, and brain scientists where we talked about how fear functions in society.

I share these things not to brag, but because my conversations in Davos were inspiring, creative, and stimulating. I came out of the event feeling as though I was able to contribute to discussions among people who were truly working to make the world a better place.

Dana Boyd, Apophenia

Some participants went to Davos simply intent on defending and forwarding their own, predetermined positions. Yet I was surprised at times at how freewheeling the conversations actually were.

Michael Schuman, TIME

It is pleasant to spend a few days in snowy Davos eating fondue, skiing and talking up creative examples of social entrepreneurship. It can even be fun to muse on one of the big questions the World Economic Forum has designated for collective cogitation: how to ‘‘redesign’’ capitalism.

But the hard part is embracing higher taxes or a lower salary.

Chrystia Freeland, Reuters

Here’s the truth about Davos: not a single person I’ve met who’s been to the event say that it’s worthwhile in the way the Forum has intended it.

Do people learn about global warming, famine in Africa, joblessness in Europe? Yes.

Does the WEF help the world in substantial ways? It does.

The not-for-profit group hosts more than 200 working sessions in Davos, and nine regional meetings around the globe that are less publicized and more focused.

But if attendees really cared about any of that, they’d have done something about it.

No, Davos is a place to be seen, to feel special, to cut a deal. It’s the global system’s way of telling the citizens of the globe that everything’s working.

David Weidner, Marketwatch

[A]midst the dealmaking, partying, networking, and status-mongering, there lurks a fair amount of empathy and striving for action to help the world’s needy. I spent time listening to and strategizing with Karen Tse, a friend I have made over years at Davos. Tse’s organization, International Bridges to Justice, works to expose and stop routine non-political investigative torture in countries all over the world. Until I met her here I didn’t even know such torture is routine. Whatever its faults, Davos is a place where such conversations happen, where the dialogue for progress continues, slowly, inexorably.

David Kirkpatrick, Forbes

[F]or all the talk of inequality and the need to demonstrate the benefits of globalisation, I heard little to suggest that “Davos man” is equipped to fend off a populist assault. The idea that “structural reform”, plus austerity, plus better job training will do the trick is – well – pious baloney.

Gideon Rachman, Financial Times

There’s been a striking effort on the part of the world’s largest for-profit enterprises to seek out and define the “shared value” playing field, with non-profits and the public sector. The “for-benefit enterprise” … seems to be on the minds of many participants here at Davos.

Frankly, neither my non-profit side of this conversation, nor the for-profit side, really knows exactly how this will look and work in practice. We should not fool ourselves that this is an easy area of collaboration and mutual benefit in which to operate. Satisfying shareholders while also achieving measurable social outcomes at scale is a promising field that’s been studied and experimented with by many great thinkers, and doers. But I doubt it’s ever been as front-and-center in the conversations of global leaders who gather here in the Swiss Alps as it is this year.

Karl Roberts, Washington Post

Davos continues to have its merits. As the event was drawing to a close, a Nobel laureate told me that at “first I thought this is a party for the ultra-rich and the glorification of [WEF founder Prof Klaus] Schwab, but now I believe they really listen, and actually do things.”

Tim Weber, BBC News

There was a lot of talk about jobs in Davos, in a way which was directly related to the talk of inequality. The assembled plutocrats had their party line on the latter — that the best way to address inequality is to make poor people richer rather than rich people poorer … And clearly, the best way to make poor people richer is to give the unemployed jobs.

But beyond that, things got very fuzzy very quickly, and more than a little depressing. LSE economist Christopher Pissarides, for instance, basically said that it was delusional to hope for significant job growth from the technology sector or from manufacturing, and that if employment is going to go up, it’s going to be from people basically acting as servants to the rich — whether it’s looking after their children, giving them personal-fitness sessions, or making them coffee.

The sad thing is that I think he’s probably right.

Felix Salmon, Reuters

[A]s the masters of finance and heads of government filter out of this ski resort in the Swiss Alps, the anxiety gnawing at the global economy continues unchecked. The damage could run beyond an economic slowdown, further undermining public faith in the institutions that now govern modern life.

For decades, as crises have assailed developing countries from Indonesia to Argentina, the powers-that-be in the United States and Europe have counseled orthodox advice: Get your fiscal house in order; live within your means; act decisively and resolutely. Yet now that crisis is hitting the wealthy world, leaders are avoiding the hardest decisions and hoping to muddle through — all while exporting their afflictions to multiple shores.

Peter Goodman, Huffington Post

One thing that’s becoming clear at Davos is that the core idea of the Enlightenment — that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand to create the best society — is under fire. And the struggle to create a new model may well pit nation against nation, corporations against government, poor against rich. The world, it turns out, isn’t flat – and it’s becoming bumpier all the time.

Rana Faroohar, TIME

Mr. Schmidt of Google said, “At Davos the conversation is really about economic growth and the reality is that technological advancement benefits those who are educated but endangers jobs that are routine and automatable.”

“This has been true for two hundred years with technologies,” he added.

Nick Bilton, New York Times

The random encounters can be just as telling as the formal arrangements. A couple of nights ago, I took a designated WEF van back to my hotel. At the next stop, we picked up a Nobel-prize winning economist well-known for his progressive outlook. In stepped another man with a South Asian accent. Ah, this time it’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He was in a great rush to talk to the current head of the G20 at one of the fancy hotels. He had a proposal to expand the G20 to make it into a G25, with representation from the five poorest countries from five different continents. The aim, he explained, is to give greater voice to the poor in global fora and to sensitize the leaders of the wealthiest countries to the needs and interests of people in the poorest countries. We wished him luck. I do not know if he will succeed, but Davos can get the ball rolling.

Daniel Bell, Huffington Post

Inequality was also a surprisingly hot topic at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos. You wouldn’t expect a gathering of plutocrats, oligarchs, and C-suite supremos to shed much light on the subject, least of all between tastings of vintage Bordeaux and excursions to the finest pistes in Switzerland. And yet one night in Davos taught me more about the true meaning of inequality than anything I’ve read or heard in the United States since the launch of Occupy Wall Street.

Niall Ferguson, Daily Beast

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