As some of you may know (specifically, my friend Richard – who looked at me aghast when I had to ask him what “Davos” was), the World Economic Forum (WEF) took place last week in Davos – a town famous for being a Swiss ski resort.
Especially when I did some googling, and discovered that:
- This is an annual thing; and
- It’s what they had in mind when they invented the word “hobnob”.
The WEF is a by-invitation-only assembly of world leaders, CEOs (thousands of them), and activist celebrities*. Just have a trawl through the invitation list available here (it’s like the who’s who of the finance world: Mario Draghi, Christine Lagarde, Mark Carney, Jamie Dimon, Marissa Meyer, Jacob J. Lew…).
*A list which, apparently, includes Goldie Hawn. Who knew?
Entertainingly, despite the lofty name, the World Economic Forum gets a lot of smack:
- “a velvet rope club for the 1% of the 1%” – Andrew Sorkin from the New York Times
- “a constellation of egos involved in massive mutual orgies of adulation” – Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.
But however you feel about it, having that much influence in one place for a week makes it important. Important enough that I shouldn’t be asking “What’s Davos?” at Saturday afternoon social events while sipping a shandy of Castle Lite and Sprite Zero.
So in an effort to be more informed, I did some reading. And this post is a summary of what you should know, and what we learned, during Davos 2014.
The Main Theme
“The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business”
What They Meant By That
Income inequality is growing – which is not good news for business, because it means that their customer base is being eroded; it’s not good news for society, because it usually ends in revolution; and it’s not good news for politics, because democrats get replaced by demagogues.
Technology is advancing – which is good for some, and bad for others. The big buzzword of the day is “the internet of things”, referring to one’s ability to control one’s thermostat over wifi. The other is “mobile over PC”, which was Marissa Meyer’s big point in her speech.
GDP growth is a bit useless – although the advanced economies are forecast to make some recoveries in 2014.
Unemployment numbers are high – what to do with all the disaffected youths?
Government debt – which everyone is a bit tired of hearing about.
Carbon emissions and climate change. Totes. Especially when the farmers in America are suffering from such severe droughts (in news that isn’t much spoken of).
The Big Speeches
- The Pope sent a message to the opening ceremony about the need for economic equality, asking the delegates to go “beyond a simple welfare mentality”.
- Goldie Hawn led a mindfulness seminar – and for anyone paying attention, “mindfulness” was the leading story in Time magazine this week.
- Google’s Eric Schmidt expressed a concern about technology leading to future job losses.
- Shinzo Abe gave everyone an update on Abenomics, and then moved on to describe Japan’s relationship with China. A relationship that he described as similar to the one between England and Germany just prior to the start of World War I.
- Christine Lagarde gave some ominous deflation warnings.
- Mario Draghi was optimistic about European recovery.
- Marissa Meyer declared that mobile traffic will have overtaken PC traffic for Yahoo by the end of 2014.
- In a lunch event, Richard Branson declared that the war on drugs has failed.
- The African delegations complained about corruption and the need for visas when they travel to the first world.
- Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, declared Iran open for business, and told everyone (again) that Iran’s nuclear program had nothing but peaceful intentions.
- Benjamin Netanyahu then basically called Mr Rouhani a liar.
- Larry Summers (of almost-being-Ben-Bernanke’s-replacement fame) attacked British Chancellor George Osbourne for being pro-austerity.
- Ban Ki-moon called for low carbon growth (how’s that for an oxymoron?).
- France protested being called “the sick man of Europe”.
- The final day was all about sustainability and climate change, which seemed a bit weak on anything exciting, other than a new buzzphrase: “the circular economy”. Which I still don’t entirely understand, but seems to involve a recycling process that is inherent in the design of the product/industry/system.
So now you know.