THE brainstorming, deal making and schmoozing is over for another year. Davos Man and Woman have come down from their Swiss mountain high and headed home, including this correspondent. What were the main memories and insights they took away from this year’s World Economic Forum?
Glass half full. The general mood was at its most upbeat since January 2007, when the financial system was as frozen as the Davos streets. Relief that most experts judged the financial crisis to be over at last outweighed concern that economic growth and job creation seems likely to remain sub-par for the forseeable future. (Christine Lagarde, boss of the International Monetary Fund, spoke of a “fragile and timid recovery”.) Angela Merkel was among several European leaders to express optimism about the continent’s economic and political prospects. Even the finding of the Edelman Trust barometer that less than one in five people trust political and business leaders to tell the truth seems to have been shrugged off. Bankers instead took comfort in the finding that trust in banks has actually risen in the past year.
Leadership vacuum. There was hardly anyone from the Obama administration, though a few Republicans turned up, including Eric Cantor, the House majority leader. Bill Clinton, a Davos regular, also stayed at home, apparently looking after Hillary. The ongoing power transition in Beijing may have explained the light Chinese presence. The Russians were out in force, making sure everyone knows they are leading the G20 this year. Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, showed up, but President Vladimir Putin stayed at home.
Euphemism of the week: Translator. When any of the army of beautiful, lightly clad young ladies flown in for the “Russian party” were asked what they did, they answered “l’m translator”.
French foreign legion. Business people from France were this year’s tragic heroes, embraced and encouraged to persevere by their fellow capitalists from abroad, whilst their government’s assault on wealth creators was widely condemned. Groups of French business men huddled together, sharing tales of adjusting to life in Belgium.
Stand-up comedy. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, enhanced his reputation as the world’s favourite comedy politician with his
French bashing Franglais routine; catchphrase: “Donnez-Moi un break—as we used to say in Brussels.” He also called Davos a “cyclotron of egos”. Mr Johnson generally overshadowed David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, who perhaps picked the wrong audience for his earnest lecture on the evils of tax evasion.
Happiest hedge-funder. Dan Loeb, of Third Point, who in the past year has shaken up Yahoo! and defended Herbalife, was over the moon at he and his hedge fund brethren being described as a “stabilising force” in the world economy by Mark Carney, the new Governor of the Bank of England.
Young global leader. Whilst the official WEF Young Global Leaders were exiled to Klosters to contemplate our Schumpeter columnist’s sage advice to be humble, the stage was left to an 11-year-old Pakistani, Khadia Niatzi, who explained how Massive Open Online Courses, such as those provided by Udacity and Coursera, could usher in world peace. She had got her degree in physics through online learning. When asked to leave the stage in order to make room for Bill Gates, she rightly seemed unimpressed.
Celebrity corner. No Bono. No Mick Jagger. No Brangelina. This year’s top celebrity was Charlize Theron, a South African film star, who turned up to support the Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Second, in absentia, was Justin Timberlake, who, it was widely noted, no longer looks anything like the now 30-something Sean Parker, famous Silicon Valley investor and co-founder of Napster, who did show up for a few headline-grabbing hours.
Party central. The official WEF theme this year was “dynamism and resilience”. That was an apt description of the partygoing. Mr Parker allegedly blew $1m throwing an exclusive bash, co-hosted with Mark Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com, and Ian Osborne, a youthful British PR svengali. A faded Davos night club was tarted up with stuffed animals sporting laser-beam eyes, drinks were free, and John Legend and Mark Ronson, a DJ, supplied the music. The party was billed as a celebration of “the future of philanthropy”, presumably ironically. Elsewhere, Google not only lost Marissa Meyer to Yahoo!, where she is now chief executive; it let her steal its traditional Friday night party slot. The McKinsey Party, with the same fabulous band for the umpteenth year, once again supplied the most reliable fun and packed, sweaty dance floor.
Shadow Davos. Over the years, a vast “fringe” of events and parties has grown up in Davos independent of the official WEF agenda. This “shadow Davos” was bigger than ever this year, with a growing number of people following Mr Parker’s lead and not even bothering with the official event and its huge fees. As with the world of banking, at Davos increasingly the real action—from doing deals to having fun—is happening in the unregulated shadow system. The WEF seems in two minds about how to respond to this, with some hosts of unofficial events grumbling about WEF officials telling them to tone things down. That is the instinct of the monopolist. Yet the WEF exists in an increasingly competitive marketplace for providing opportunities for the global movers and shakers to get together. A better strategy would be to deliver an even better official Davos in 2014.