The Call

Davos recap

Davos recap

Last night, I had dinner with Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola, and other guests — a small, and refreshingly international crowd. I ended up sitting next to Saxby Chambliss, Republican Senator from Georgia and Vice Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. His insight came without the dose of partisanship that I might have expected — he didn’t ask my inclination politically and didn’t seem like it particularly mattered to him. He’s been coming for over a decade to Davos…and consistently sees much less divide between Democrats and Republicans compared to the prevailing U.S. versus international view on the subject. It’s a really constructive approach to the summit that can be extrapolated beyond domestic U.S. politics. Sound analysis and forward-looking consensus always beat the preconceived notions that everyone brings to the table.

As far as the broader conversation went, it’s important to note how spirited discussions on Iran were. It certainly seems like the consensus was the Middle East is the big risk coming out of the summit. It is a very precarious issue, to be sure, and deserves attention. But a confluence of factors gives it even more of the spotlight, specifically here in Davos. The Israelis talk a great game, and stay on message — Iranian nuclear progress has cycled into the news consistently in years past, and they help feed it. Yet coverage rarely spills over into ‘boy who cried wolf’ territory that could be used to discredit the threat the next time it flares up. On the flip side, few from the Arab world want to talk, and those who do aren’t particularly representative. And on to other actors: among Europeans, there’s a lot of handwringing. China doesn’t have much of a dog in the fight (so sell oil). But at least they generally admit it — whereas the Russians just bluster.

In other interesting news: Cameron denounced state capitalism at his plenary. State capitalism wasn’t really on the radar last year, but it has gained significant traction. Active questions for western powers are sticking: Can it –and should it –be combatted? And how? One of the big dangers of ‘combatting’ state capitalism is the possibility of slipping into an attempt to beat the Chinese at their own game, promoting protectionism and subsidies in what could trigger damaging trade tensions and backfire for all players involved. Reforming industrial policy, however, is smart. The United States has an impressive State Department, but its Commerce Department? Not so much. (Interestingly, Japan is just the opposite. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is weak, but METI is strong). This distinction is not an especially acute problem, that is, until the U.S. economic statecraft policy takes root and the focus shifts to China. Then this weakness is a structural one.

And tidbits from people-watching and resultant observations:

-There is a big Japanese delegation — they all wear their Davos Japan pins. They hang together, like their new government. I sense a bit of skepticism on the recent American pivot towards Asia. Is it lasting? What does it mean in reality? It’s an interesting issue that I’d like to look into more.

-Americans here see through Newt’s surge. Last night at dinner? Perhaps 1/20 Americans thought Newt could snag the nomination — and their hearts weren’t in it. But that didn’t stop Martin Wolf at the FT from betting me a dinner that Gingrich gets the GOP nod. I would have done a 2 for 1 deal on this one and still loved my odds.

-It’s been interesting to see the effect of social media on Davos itself, in real time, as a traditionally insular summit gets recorded through the lens of countless thought leaders, CEOs, and government officials who share events in real time. And I’m not just talking about the amusing results on twitter. It is a decidedly more open forum than it has been historically, as people recognize there is more buzz, and more diverse outlets for information — and a broader global community receiving it.