By Peter Foster
National Post, January 29, 2009. 7:03 PM
The typically pretentious theme of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos is “Shaping the Post-Crisis World.” But didn’t Davos shape the pre-crisis world, and thus the crisis itself? The annual Alpine gabfest has long been the epicentre of ‘globaloney,’ a mixture of serious discussion, subversive ideas and outright flakery. It has certainly never — as some critics believe — been about promoting capitalism. Rather it has always been a mercantilist stew in which big businessmen, big government and big international bureaucracy get together to suck both the collective thumb and the collective teat. Its ideological heart is the impossible UN dream of “global governance,” and of a corporate sector moving “beyond” mere profits to take on the heavy mantles of social responsibility, sustainable development, Global Compacts and Millennium Development Goals.
However, now that the WEF’s self-styled global governors are faced with the major crisis that they have long predicted, but probably never really expected, they are clueless. WEF founder Klaus Schwab, a Rolodex socialist in the mould of former UN poobah Maurice Strong, can, like a villain from Atlas Shrugged, only berate greed and call for “better” regulation and “improved” institutions and more pulling together. The global governors never really expected, or wanted, to actually govern, but rather to sit like limpet jockeys on the back of the corporate sector, making infinite demands in order to salve their own sanctimoniousness, and using the poor and the ”climate crisis” as their whips.
In fact, Davos Man has his fingerprints all over the present crisis. Subprime loans were the very model of corporate social responsibility, of putting communities and people before profits. Meanwhile a perfect Davos-type deal is taking shape to address the crisis: big government is bailing out big business — in particular, big banking — with trillions of taxpayers’ dollars. Davos-ees, present in either body or spirit, are shuffling around the funds of those not present, or represented. The archetypal Davos Man, guilty speculator George Soros, is rejoicing in the profit potential. All that’s required is for the major banks to hold onto the “good” assets and let the rest wind up in too-truly named “bad banks,” as stranded crap wholly owned by taxpayers. Mr. Soros admitted this week that he would be interested in investing in the “good” banks “since the margins are very high.”
Given this shameful model, and their own culpability, it is perhaps not surprising that not too many bankers have actually turned up at Davos this year. However, lots of big politicians are there to provide posturing and light relief. The biggest disappointment is that President Obama could not be present so that attendees might touch the hem of his garment. Still, the first day of the conference saw speeches from both Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Wen Jiabao, who were given a prominent platform to bash the U.S. and capitalism (which should never, ever, be regarded as synonymous). Even the terminally leftish British Guardian remarked “How dismal that the Davos ideal of the post-crisis age is being championed by men so fond of armies, executions and the secret police.” Dismal? Or entirely appropriate?
Mr. Putin demonstrated that although Kremlin oligarch-style cronyism may be the Davos model, he hasn’t quite grasped the elements of global back scratching. He was asked by computer whiz Michael Dell how companies such as Dell might help Russia develop its IT sector and the economy more broadly. “We don’t need any help,” snapped the increasingly unpopular czar. “We are not invalids.”
Mr. Putin might also have taken umbrage at Sir Laurence Olivier’s son, Richard, a corporate trainer, putting on a seminar on “Leadership Lessons from Macbeth” rather than those of the Russian Prime Minister. According to Mr. Olivier, “The dark black magic of Macbeth has a particular resonance this year at Davos. It’s about how people who have bloody, murderous or greedy thoughts attract bloody, murderous or greedy spirits.”
Apparently Mr. Olivier was thinking of Lehman Brothers rather than those rumoured to have been offed by the Putin regime. Still, Mr. Olivier’s flakiness at least had some substance, unlike the cryptic meanderings of WEF leader Mr. Schwab.
Mr. Schwab wrote a piece for the International Herald Tribune on Wednesday to coincide with the opening of the conference. He has wittered on for decades about how “we” — that is, the people at Davos — are going to “govern globalization.” But it seems that dozens of conferences haven’t come up with much beyond boilerplate. Mr. Schwab declared without fear of cliché that the current crisis was a “wake-up call.” Everything apparently needs overhauling, especially thinking. We must move from “ego” capitalism to “eco” capitalism. “We will not be able to hide from our responsibility to work together to rebuild shattered economies and institutions.”
Who is this “we,” and who elected Klaus Schwab to organize it?
Far from presenting coherent solutions to the current crisis, Davos this week is a cacophony of contradictory policies coming, at one end, from those who are calling for “mixed economies” and “European” models, and at the other from those who are warning about the dangers of protectionism and lousy regulation, and pointing out that there are no alternatives to open markets and capitalism as a generator of wealth and welfare. (Thank you, Rupert Murdoch.)
Meanwhile, at the World Social Forum, the “alternative” Davos in Belem, Brazil, this week, there was reported to be “little outright gloating” at the state of the world economy. After all, what ultimately pays for radical NGO protests — or WEF posturing — but capitalism?Tags: davos, globalization