Goings-On at Davos Day Three

January 31, 2009
  • Aron Cramer portrait

    Aron Cramer

    President and CEO, BSR

This year’s Davos is increasingly the Marvin Gaye event: Everyone is walking around asking, “What’s going on?”

There is an intense interest in understanding when (hopefully not whether) the recession will turn around. People are trading predictions—worst I’ve heard: a 70 percent chance of depression lasting four to five years. A truly disorienting series of months has given us all a strong desire for clarity, certainty, and hope. We need to gain our bearings.

After three days, I haven’t heard much that gives me particular clarity about the road ahead. And the most convincing forecasts are ones that include, “I don’t really know.”

A few more observations:

  • If there were an apparel index measuring the mood of the crowd—where formal attire correlates with a more somber attitude—this Davos is by far the most serious of the five I’ve attended. I would guess that more than half the men are wearing ties, which is probably twice as many as in years past. Conventional wisdom is that people want to be seen to be working here, given all the distress away from the mountain.
  • Bill Clinton, who skipped last year to campaign for Hillary, is back—and he’s working the crowds. Clinton held a reception for the Clinton Global Initiative (seen by many as a competitor to the WEF) at the beautiful Kirchner art museum in Davos. This looks to be an attempt to re-imagine some of his activities after the tumultuous 2008 campaign.
  • The walkout of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has roiled Davos. The rare public display of anger appears to be reverberating far from Switzerland, marking a deterioration in relations between Israel and Turkey over Gaza.
  • The plenary on climate, “The Road to Copenhagen,” was more encouraging. There was considerable agreement among Al Gore, Shell CEO Jeroen van de Veer, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and UN climate chief Yvo de Boer. Asked by a New York Times columnist what they wanted out of Copenhagen, the consistent response was 2050 targets, intermediate targets, and involvement of the United States, the EU, China, India, and other major emerging nations. Important divisions remain—Van de Veer promoted carbon capture and sequestration, while Gore dismissed it as a solution in the near and medium term—but there was more agreement than disagreement.
  • The Obama administration was represented by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Speaking from prepared remarks, and taking no questions, her main message seemed to be that America is back in the cooperation business again. The American delegation is quite small, probably because Washington is more focused on the stimulus bill. There has been a pretty one-sided debate here, though, with most voices blaming the United States for the global recession. There is likely some truth to that, though it’s also worth remembering that the chatter at Davos was all about how the world economy had decoupled from the United States. Both things can’t be true. It will be interesting to see if the United States has too little or too much influence when Davos 2010 rolls around.

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