The 2015 World Economic Forum (commonly referred to as Davos – if this doesn’t sound familiar, check out my introto this gilded conference of the wealthy) is concluding this evening after three days of talk shop between world leaders, business tycoons, humanitarians, and a few celebrities. The elite hobnobbing happens over nice meals and cocktails, at one of the highest-altitudes in Europe (1,560 Feet above sea level to be exact)- allowing the participants of the conference to literally look down on the world they are discussing shaping. With invitation only tickets costing $20,000 each, some will argue that Davos is a scandalous waste of money, but the idea behind the gathering is this: take global leaders out of the pressure cooker of their jobs and bring them together in a remote mountain valley, and they will be able to exchange ideas, and hopefully make a few deals. To be clear, organizers of the event don’t expect specific outcomes, rather that participants will walk away with new ideas, new innovations, and new ways to tackle world problems. So, what exactly has happened this week?
Here is a breakdown of some of the notable happenings if your invitation to the event was somehow lost in the mail.
1. The slowing growth of the global economy:
Are we going to enter a post-capitalist era? That is the fear of economists at Davos who warn of “SecStag” or secular stagnation – a phenomena where weak economic recoveries die in their infancy creating depressions that feed themselves. The warning: that the slow growth seen since the 2008 market-crash may in fact be permanent, developed economies that went bust might not return to boom days, and lost jobs won’t be regained. In short: developed nations may have entered into an economic stagnation that will be difficult to awake from.
2. The declining price of oil:
The sinking in the price of oil has been a hot topic of conversation at the World Economic Forum. So, what does it mean for the global economy? According to CEOs, oil prices always are in flux and it’s difficult to predict the market. But what can be said is, cheap oil has a complex set of implications with negative consequences for broader corporate profits and capital expenditures. But the expectation is optimistic overall. As summarized by Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, oil prices will bottom and stabilize eventually and it’s thought that price targets for oil will still be met globally in 2015. Since crude prices are sliding, most economist and policy-wonks are betting that the cheaper energy prices will fuel consumption in oil-importing countries and this will outweigh the negative impact of reduced prices.
3. The lack of global cooperation to combat epidemics despite linked economies and markets:
This is a big one. Global health experts at Davos are warning that the Western world is vulnerable to epidemics, such as Ebola, and increased investment must be made into developing and researching vaccines. Public health policies must “transcend politics and borders,” said Peter Piot, a scientist and leading Ebola researcher. Health care is everyone’s issue, and as the world becomes ever more interconnected, diseases that were once contained to specific regions now have the very real possibility of spreading globally.
4. Star power all around!
Big names in attendance included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Google executive Eric Schmidt, Bob Dudley of BP, Ali Baba’s Jack Ma, and Italian Operatic tenor, Andrea Bocelli. Pharrell “Happy” Williams and Al Gore came togetherto promote Live Earth, an awareness-raising campaign focused on music concerts.
5. The Chinese continue to dominate the global economy:
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is quoted at the conference as saying that China has no intention to compete for the supremacy with other countries. But one this is for sure: China will continue to dominate markets and is an economic hardhitter.
6. Obama’s State of the Union Resonated at the World Economic Forum:
US President Obama touted middle class economics in his State of the Union address on Wednesday, and this messaging was picked up at Davos. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, when speaking to CNN from the Swiss resort, emphasized the importance of bridging rising global economic inequalities, suggesting that growth needs to be shared equitably. Summers also spoke to the need for more progressive taxation and lauded the broad perspective that President Obama pushed forward in his address. The tone at the World Economic Conference: public sector work is important for creating infrastructure, but more support is needed in increasing international trade, and freeing up burdens on the private sector.
Further, mirroring the State of the Union, tax reform was a major topic of conversation. Many representative at Davos are focused on advocating to make sure that taxes are based on individual’s ability to pay, ultimately helping people to make the most fundamental investment of all: in their education.
6. The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah:
While this didn’t happen at the conference it was surely felt there. The death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was mourned with many participants paying tribute to the “reformer”King. Among those, Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel, said the Abdullah’s death represented a “real loss for peace in the Middle East.” Pierre Moscovici, of the European Union’s Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, said that Abdullah was a “personality of peace” and would be greatly missed. King Abdullah II of Jordan canceled his appearance at a session on advancing Middle East security and peace following the death.
7. Emma Watson and #HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10:
Emma Watson, the Harry Potter star and UN Goodwill ambassador, continues to be a remarkable voice for women, promoting her global focus on achieving gender parity through IMPACT 10X10X10 pilot initiative to galvanize momentum in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. The HeForShe campaign’s IMPACT 10X10X10 initiative is a one-year pilot effort that aims to engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change.
The bottom line at Davos is that it is an opportunity for learning and sharing by the world’s major voices and leaders. Most uber-successful people didn’t get to their level of accomplishment by talking, but rather by listening to the voices of experts and applying what they learned to their careers. The World Economic Forum provides the platform for networking, and even if the hobnobbing doesn’t result in actual policy, it does set a tone for best practices in the business and development world, allowing financial leaders, politicians, and celebs to rally around similar causes.