Davos Newbies Home

Unbusinesslike 

Matthew Yglesias pithily makes an important point about the difference between the public and private sectors: “The idea that you could run a city (or a state or the country) like a business is dangerously wrong.”

War war, not jaw jaw 

“Let us fight it out face to face. We have fought thrice, let there be a fourth war.” It’s not very reassuring that India’s depty prime minister, LK Advani, is egging on a war with Pakistan. I know that his incendiary rhetoric is partly an electoral gambit, but it’s exactly what a precarious situation needs least.

One of the many reasons India continues to lag behind China‘s development is the distraction of issues like Kashmir, which consumes a disproportionate amount of political time and capital. As far as I can tell, Advani has never devoted the same passion to India’s economic progress as to lashing out at his hated neighbour. As the world’s largest democracy, India’s path provides a powerful exemplar for many other countries. I’m turning into a pessimist about its future, however.

Expo 2010 

In the last few days, full page ads have been appearing in the Financial Times (and I’d guess in other elite media) pushing various cities bids for the 2010 International Exposition. Moscow, Shanghai, Queretaro, Yeosu and Wroclaw are vying for the honour, which will be awarded at this week’s meeting of the Bureau International des Expositions. These odd ads are aimed at the tiny number of BIE members — the cost per thousand must make even my old magazine, World Link, seem an absolute bargain.

It’s extraordinary that the nineteenth century invention of expositions to display wares and wonders to a curious public has survived into our new century. I live within sight of Crystal Palace (where the great 1851 Paxton construction was moved in 1852), and even though only the foundations remain (the building burned down in 1936) it always evokes for me a powerful sense of what must have been miraculous in its day. When I was a boy, I happily wandered around Expo ’67 in Montreal and (the unofficial in BIE’s eyes) New York World’s Fair in 1964. But I had not even the faintest interest in going to Seville in 1992, Lisbon in 1998 or Hanover in 2000, even though the journeys would have been very easy.

What’s the point now, beyond a boost to tourism? And as Hanover, host of the 2000 Expo, learned to its cost, even that can be doubtful. The survival of the international expo relies on the continuing supply of cities desperate for international recognition (Queretaro, Yeosu and Wroclaw) and those that still have a bureaucracy that hankers after grand projects that seem to offer bread and circuses for their inhabitants (Moscow and Shanghai). With so many city egos to gratify, the BIE will roll on for decades, perpetuating this odd, historical anomaly.

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