Fear stalks the halls of the World Economic Forum in 2009. The tone is negative and the attitude is nasty, what with all the finger-pointing, nation-bashing, and fear-mongering going on in the public sessions and in private conversations. Globalization is taking a hit, the US is getting mauled, bankers are being eviscerated, politicians are being criticized, free market capitalism is being jeered, and business people are getting more and more paranoid as they exchange personal stories of revenues in free-fall across the globe.
The scariest thing to me at Davos this year is that despite all the talk of a “transformational crisis,” as WEF founder Klaus Schwab put it, all the solutions being described are the usual predictable conventional wisdom. I had a terrific session with my fellow members of the Global Agenda Council on Design who have the means to help solve many of the big problems being discussed at Davos, but the politicians and economists running the show and the sessions don’t know that design and design thinking even exist. The success of design in the private, corporate sphere is not being replicated in the public policy-making space. How do we win this battle? How do we get access to policy-makers to show them what design and innovation can accomplish?
Meanwhile, nastiness abounds at Davos. Russia’s Prime Minister Putin slapped Michael Dell around on stage when Dell offered to help his country spread digitalization to its schools. “We don’t need you help,” said Putin, in a fairly pugnacious way. OK. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao slapped the US around for having “inappropriate macroeconomic
policies...characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption." OK. JPMorgan boss James Dimon, one of the few US bankers to show up, blasted regulators for the financial crisis, as well as the banks. And he blamed government politicians and regulators for being all over the place in solving the crisis and and letting it go on for a year and a half without solution. He wants everyone in one room to force a solution, finally. If not, Dimon thinks the financial crisis could go on for another year.
Ana Botin, a board member of Spanish bank Santander, blasted policy-makers in the UK and elsewhere for nationalizing their banks. Her bank is healthy, she said, but can't make loans because the cost of funds are high relative to the government-backed British and European banks. She blamed the European Union for not having consistent rules.
And Benjamin Netnyahu, the Israeli political leader running for top office in upcoming elections, blamed Iran for Hamas and Hezbollah, but that's another blame story.
The final smackdown came at the end of the day in the big hall in the Conference Center when Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan broke all the rules of polite Davosian public behavior by storming off stage in a heated discussion about Gaza after he was refused extra time to rebute Israeli President Shimon Peres. Washington Post editor David Ignatius allowed Peres to speak 25 minutes, instead of the usual 5. He did, defending Israel passionately. Erdogan was disagreeing with Peres when he left and announced publicly he would never ever return to Davos. Klaus Schwab quickly went after him and, after two hours, persuaded Erdogan to come back next year.
I'm off to a media party where the journalists will probably blame Google for the meltdown of their industry.
At Davos this year, it's all a blame-game.