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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