The Call

Dispatch from Davos

Dispatch from Davos

By Ian Bremmer

Everyone’s talking about how decidedly gloomy Davos is this year. Actually, the gloom is pretty much everywhere else. Here at the actual meeting it is a little more serious than the usual and not exactly festive, but plenty energized. 

The World Economic Forum’s tagline, “Committed to improving the state of the world,” assertively rebuffs gloom. And this year’s topic is typically upbeat, “Shaping the Post-Crisis World.” Never mind that most everyone I’m talking to thinks we won’t be looking at an upturn until 2010 or later. (Thus far, best intervention on that point: Japanese economist Heizo Takenaka, who wants to see more focus on monetary policy than fiscal stimulus from the developed world.) But from the first day, at least, the focus is less on getting from A to B than understanding how best to shape A so B looks reasonable.

In part that’s because the financial firms and corporations in the most distress aren’t actually here. But the real point is the historic number of heads of state — 41 (which is itself an understatement, since Putin’s here; call it 41 3/4), most of whom are far more likely to be around when the global economy finally turns to rebound than their colleagues in the private sector.  

The government leaders also come with much larger delegations (a small but telling indicator of why state capitalism trends towards greater inefficiency…). So while the meeting participants look comparable to last year’s numbers, the physical infrastructure is bursting at the seams. 

One of the things I find most endearing about Davos is that the crush of all these visitors in a small mountainside village means folks are sleeping in conditions that they probably haven’t experienced in a while. Which seems decidedly healthy, especially in today’s economic environment. Not that you necessarily recognize it as such at the time. I was cranky this morning, on four hours sleep, and no gym to work out, the daily regimen out the window, which I grumbled to the CNN anchor before an interview. At which point the crew chimed in that they were actually bunked up in a gym. 

Everyone wants what they can’t have.