26 Jan 2015
For 44 years, January has seen politicians of the highest level join hundreds of public and business leaders in a tiny Swiss ski-resort called Davos.
Far from a mid-winter hideaway, it’s actually a marathon of discussion on global economic issues; traditionally global business strategy, international conflict, environment and poverty.
This 45th World Economic Forum (WEF) saw a record-breaking number of invitees make the journey - mostly in private jets - including 1,500 business leaders from over 100 countries.
They’ve been accompanied by at least 40 heads of state, 300 government seniors and around 800 participants from the public sector and civil society - not to mention high-profile faculty members from London Business School.
In what has become an increasingly Europe-focussed get-together, the hot topic remained recovery from a financial crisis at which this continent is still at the heart.
So what is there to take away from this year’s summit?
The theme of this year’s flagship event was “The New Global Context”.
Within this framework, a series of 10 global challenges affecting the modern world were identified; among them long-term investing; infrastructure and development; international trade and investment.
And even before the official kick off - a performance from pop’s Pharrell Williams - the WEF had published a 14-point action plan to tackle growing inequality, after this was last year identified as the biggest threat to the global economy.
David Cameron missed the event for the first time since becoming Prime Minister. Instead, Chancellor George Osborne took the reins, joining French president Francois Hollande, Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang, German chancellor Angela Merkel and US secretary of state John Kerry.
So from the UK perspective - where growth is currently exceeding expectations, and unemployment is down - it was a question of getting to the crux of the wider equality debate, with the Bank governor Mark Carney’s panel’s ‘A richer world but for whom?’ aptly placed.
Growth and stability
Expansionary monetary decisions have been behind the bulk of economic recovery made since the global financial crisis.
This is all well and good, and such strategies have been largely lauded for preventing certain economies falling apart all together. But with them have come additional challenges.
Have certain regions, governments or economies become ‘addicted’ to such easing and what of the high risks of misapplication. The build-up of asset bubbles, excessive risk-taking, and capital outflows have the potential to inflate assets and potentially destabilise other economies.
On Thursday, economists, bankers and officials got in line to ask the European Central Bank to agree to a further £1trn in quantitative easing. What they received later that afternoon was an even more generous package from president Mario Draghi, valued at nearer £1.2trn.
But is such a reliance on QE serving as an excuse for Eurozone countries to put actual proposals for reform to one side? Hélène Rey, Professor of Economics, London Business School, says:
“If you want to be optimistic, QE can be regarded as the first step for Europe. But let’s not underestimate the discussions that must be had on debt restructuring. And the needs for structural reform, for instance, the labour market in France where young people can’t get in.”
Key sessions: Mark Carney led Saturday’s session on The Global Economic Outlook, seen as a programme highlight by many, while Wednesday’s presentation on Volatility as the New Normal provoked much reaction.
Perhaps this year’s most interesting development is an emphasis on technology and its changing role in economics - in a marked departure from debate on financial regulation alone.
Technological, as well as economic forces in industries like financial services, manufacturing and energy are having a transformational effect in 2015.
But against this backdrop, low productivity growth is prompting concerns – particularly in the UK - while a popular charge levelled at larger companies is maximising short-term gain at the expense of long-term wealth creation, not to mention social benefit.
Key sessions: Wednesday saw a highlight in the form of The New Banking Context, delivered in part by Forbes’ Andre Esteves. Discussions centred on how regulatory changes, technological and business model innovation are reshaping the global banking landscape.