It may be that I hang out with sorry, old lags, but everyone I’ve spoken to is befuddled by the emphasis on workshops in the Davos programme. A typical workshop has 30 or 40 discussion leaders, who will co-host tables of ten. So the experience of the workshop crucially depends on picking the right table.
It’s like the scene in Stardust Memories where Woody Allen is on a train filled with gloomy, silent, depressed people. He looks out the window to see another train on an adjacent track. It’s filled with a beautiful, laughing crowd having a great time. At the workshops I attend, I hope I don’t think, “Why can’t I be at that table?”
Heading to the airport
Today is a travelling day, so I won’t have a chance to update until I
reach New York. I’m planning to keep a fairly constant feed of
observations on Davos in New York running here.
Given how much further New York is than Davos from London, it’s
strange that there isn’t much difference in the travel time. Part of the
charm of Davos, for me, is that it is difficult to get to. If it were in
Zurich (yawn), it would be a snap. But getting from Zurich up the
mountains, if you use my preferred transport of the train, is reasonably
laborious. For New York, I get a direct flight and I’m there, barring
the taxi ride into Manhattan.
In the last set of emails I received before leaving, I was invited to
moderate a lunch on behavioural economics. The blurb notes that
“research in the psychology of decision-making reveals that investors
often make decisions that are not fully rational.” Far, far stronger
statements could be made, in the light of the madness of past years.
The event that changed the US
Paul Krugman has a characteristically heterodox viewpoint: “I predict that in the years ahead Enron, not Sept. 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society… There have been other big, admired companies that failed; there have been other companies that turned out to be largely fraudulent. But I can’t think of another case in which the most admired company turned out to be a fraud.”
It will be particularly interesting in the coming days to see how Enron plays at Davos in NY. Ken Lay was a Davos stalwart: regular plenary speaker, sought-after moderator, member of the Foundation Board. He’s not coming (obviously), but I wonder how many people in the Davos crowd will have the courage to confront the many spectres at the feast.
If you want to read in one convenient place why I’m uneasy about the
concept of Davos in New York, read Alex
Kuczynski’s New York Times article on the parties planned during the
“Elton John is providing the entertainment for a party at the Four
Seasons. Le Cirque? Booked solid.” Oy.
Sunday night black hole
I was hardly encouraged to read Charles McLean, the Forum’s
communications director, quoted in The New York Times about the Sunday
evening programme. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to
counterprogram against the Super Bowl. Sunday evening is for private
It so happens that Sunday evening is my one formal commitment on the
programme: moderating a discussion over dinner on “The power of
architecture”. It’s part of my profession of utility infielder – in the
Davos context – that I’m thrown into moderating roles that no one else
seems to fit (it so happens, as well, that ages ago I edited an
architecture and design magazine).
After worrying last year that no one would come to the session I
moderated which ran against a plenary with Bill Gates (we were pretty
full), I’m not unduly concerned about Sunday evening. After all, for the
majority of participants in Davos in New York, the clash of two American
football teams is a momentary curiosity, hardly ranking with the sweet
anticipation of this summer’s World Cup.
Ouch, that hurts
“I really dig Hannibal. Hannibal had real guts. He rode elephants into Cartilage.” Mike Tyson quoted by Frank Keating
Opening day details
The Forum has just announced a few of the details for the opening day.
Hamid Karzai, who heads the interim administration in Afghanistan, will speak at the opening plenary. If the impact makes people understand the long-term difficulties that will attend reconstructing his nation, Karzai’s intervention will be welcome. Although the development pledges made last week in Tokyo were a good start, long-term support for the hard slog of nation-building (that verboten phrase in the White House) is not yet assured.
The cultural extravaganza later on Thursday will include: Bono, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, Lauryn Hill, Joshua Bell, Branford Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval, Ravi Shankar and Hikaru Utada. I’m not sure how you mix these and others together, but I trust Quincy Jones does know.
What do you expect with an orange badge?
Jenni Russell, editor of BBC Radio 4′s The World Tonight, kvetches at her treatment in Davos (to understand her riff on badges, look here). She also makes some important points about the Forum’s constricted role. It is a convener, not a decider. It can make grand statements (and it does, often), but it has no way of compelling its business participants to modify their behaviour in any way.
I do think, however, that she underestimates the potential impact of opening minds to other ideas and topics. To my observation, most participants are extraordinarily thirsty to find out in particular about the things of which they know nothing. Jenni’s langlaufing Goldman Sachs man is atypical, and sounds an arrogant sod.
What went wrong
Paul Kennedy’s review of Bernard Lewis’s latest book on Islam and the west contains more wisdom than many screeds in the aftermath of 11 September. According to Lewis, the divide between the two is “one of the greatest cultural and political divides in modern history”. Sorting out Afghanistan and finishing off Qaeda will hardly make a dent in this chasm.
I’ll single out one nugget. “The works of Mozart and Shakespeare and Voltaire have traveled around the globe, as for that matter have Stravinsky, jazz and George Orwell. But they all pretty much stop at the frontiers of the Arab world, which has shown little interest in how others think, write, compose.”
Because of the obstinance of the US administration, the UN conference on development finance will not be promoting a target of 0.7% of GNP for aid. The current average for developed countries is 0.22%.
According to the UN, rich countries need to double the current $50 billion annual development assistance to reach the 2015 goals of halving the number of people suffering poverty, hunger or lacking access to drinking water; achieving universal primary schooling; vastly reducing maternal and infant mortality rates; and halting the spread of preventable diseases.
These goals seem to me fundamental to our humanity. How sad that the funding is a political issue, rather than a clear responsibility for the rich nations of the world.