This Is the Week Where the World's Billionaires Gather in Davos and Pretend They're Saviors of the World
Masters of the Universe, vaguely real or totally fake, who want to play savior all flocked to Switzerland this week. In Montreux, one may "save" Syria at the very un-jazzy Geneva II charade, which I have dealt with here. In the interminable business meeting known as Davos, one has the possibility to save no less than the whole world.
In Davos, as an extra bonus, one may even play savior of Syria. A 75-minute simulation session is on offer, where global suits may experience how it feels to be a Syrian refugee. The menu includes detention, being chased by a replica gun-toting militia, and being shouted at by aid workers. Luckily for the attendees, it does not include a meeting with Bandar Bush-sponsored beheading jihadis. The insufferable Bono is rumored to be participating.
London mayor Boris Johnson, duly accredited as one of the 2,500 delegates at the World Economic Forum, alongside the "financial elite", "world leaders", corporate honchos, and sundry royalty (mostly Hollywoodish), has defined Davos as "a constellation of egos involved in massive mutual orgies of adulation".
Sessions avidly disputed by the ego constellation are routinely announced by cowbells ringing across the Congress Center. Each cowbell ringing until Saturday will be ultimately striking a tone matching the theme of the 2014 meeting; the quite modest "The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business". This "reshaping" is being brought to you by many of the people who caused (or profited from) the 2007-2008 financial crisis.
Stuck in the middle with Jesus
Pope Francis - the new Jesus? - decided not to eschew his now trendy Franciscan abandon at the Vatican for the glitzy ski slopes, but sent a cardinal, Peter Turkson, to remind the Masters of the Universe of "a new, profound, sense of responsibility", which in thesis means they should care about inequality, the poor and the unemployed. That was the gist of the "Big Francis is watching you" message.
Davos Day One opened with a session on the digital future. The Masters of the Universe were asked to name a gadget that changed their lives (credit default swaps don't qualify). Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer praised her smartphone. She also said that by the end of 2014 Yahoo! will be handling more traffic from mobile devices than from desktops; "2014 will be a tipping point ... it will change everyone's daily routines very fundamentally".
Then there's the pesky matter of the NSA-centric Orwellian/Panopticon complex. Mayer said, "What's murky about some of what is happening today is people don't necessary[sic] know what data is being collected and about what is being used." Cisco's John Chambers for his part said there must be "cooperation" between the tech universe and the NSA.
It was up to the father of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, to talk from the floor, and stress, "When you are operating at this level, you have no idea if these people are American citizens or been suspected of committing some sort of crime." He insisted on a "discussion" about what all this information is used for.
Economist Nouriel Roubini cut to the chase, preferring to identify the immediate future trend: "In the third manufacturing revolution, we will have robotics, automation, 3D printing, nanotechnologies. But only skilled jobs will be created." Including inside the NSA.
Clowns to the left, jokers to the right
As Davos was rolling, the City of London told the Financial Times that British banks are not exactly happy with the idea of Britain exiting the European Union. As Jim Cowles, Citibank's CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, told the FT, there's "mounting concern" among his clients over using the UK as a regional hub. Tell that to David of Arabia Cameron.
That fits nicely with the Davos session "Is Europe Back?", which included, among others, former Bundesbank president and current chairman of UBS Axel Weber, economist Kenneth Rogoff and advertising guru Sir Martin Sorrell.
Some of these eminences had to gall to affirm that Europe is "stronger" than a year ago. Sorrell said the UK and Germany are doing well, and he's "very bullish" about Germany, Poland and Russia. Yet he's worried about France, Italy and Spain. This passes in Masters of the Universe circles for "sound analysis". Axel Weber at least admitted that Europe as a whole "still feels like a crisis", and that "the economy is too weak to sustain the kind of growth in jobs we need to get out of this crisis".
Sir Richard Branson - the Virgin godfather - who was apparently on a private meeting about the 2030 agenda for progress in the developing world, performed the customary brilliant PR move, leaking, "The war on drugs has failed". Seems like Branson has been to Portugal, which does not send people to jail for heroin possession. Oh yes, and time to start that Virgin route to Montevideo.
On Africa, the buzzword in Davos is "democratic dividend". But when someone asked the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Elebe Jonathan, what happened to all that oil that miraculously "disappears" every year from the Niger Delta, he said there was no corruption. Maybe it's an act of God; he should consult Pope Francis.
This being a predominantly Western talkfest, Russia-bashing was in order. It was duly provided by hedge fund honcho Bill Browder, who "predicted" that Vladimir Putin's government would collapse by early 2015 if the price of oil fell to $60 a barrel. Both things obviously barely qualify as wishful thinking.
Browder also joined the BRICS-bashing chorus, which has grown quite loud lately. The piece de resistance on Davos Day One was the speech by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He said, "We must restrain military expansion in Asia, which otherwise could go unchecked"; military spending "must be transparent, and able to be verified"; and "We must create a process for crisis management and lay down rules that enforce the international control of the sea."
What a lovely way to ingratiate himself with the Masters of the Universe by not so discreetly appealing for all of them to support Japan over China in the whole South China Sea islands dispute.
So his message was "bet on Japan", and "only then can we get growth and prosperity in Asia". Does "growth" and "prosperity" ring a bell to all those familiar with the background of World War II? Apparently it does, because Abe also felt obliged to admit, "Japan has sworn an oath, never again to wage a war." And then he plugged Abenomics, through which "We can create economic growth, which will result in lasting peace in the region."
So there's just a small sample of how Davos will be - unselfishly - saving the world until Saturday. Wait, there's more: Goldie Hawn expanding on the merits of meditation in a "mindfulness" panel. How come Pope Francis never thought about that? And to finally soothe all egalitarian spirits, nothing like a special Davos screening of the Mandela biopic, Long Walk to Freedom.
Some Masters of the Universe such as Warren Buffett and Apple's Tim Cook thought they had better fish to capture, fry and profit from than to hit Davos. As for "security", in case an Obama drone strayed off target in the tribal areas and hit a Swiss mountain as if it was a Pashtun wedding party, not many around the real world would be shedding a tear.