What the regulars at this fabled Swiss resort did not appear to grasp is that the breezier than usual air this year was the cold wind of change brought on by the bitter storm of betrayal and personal devastation that millions around the world have felt as a result of Wall Street’s greed and the failures of those expected to regulate it.
The Davos Style from Another Era
The annual procession of the pantheon of the overrated, otherwise known as the World Economic Forum, concluded this week.It ended with a bulletin:The forum’s members have not quite figured out how to get themselves (and us) out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
But Davos was never about ideas or innovation. And it has never been about vision. This is a group that can’t see ahead even a few months, much less the years they would like to profess.Today, it is about the desperately discredited attempting to flee the apocalypse of their own creation. Fearing, as others have during times of transition when the touchstones of power and privilege were crumbling and a new order was beginning to arise in their place, these CEOs and princes think that if they just stick together they might be able to survive. Somehow they hope that the trillions that have vanished on their watch, and the trillions more that have had to be injected into their companies to avert Armageddon, will recede from the public consciousness and their previous status of unquestioned deference and unchallenged compensation will resume. This is what the Davos crowd took from President Barack Obama’s inaugural address (loosely borrowed from Jerome Kern’s song of the same name) that it is in such times that America picks itself up, dusts itself off and starts over again. A more contemporary songwriter might advise this group that you can’t always get what you want.
Having been escorted to the brink of ruin by the leaders who insisted they had all the answers (and made most of the rules), the public is not soon likely to entrust its fate to multimillionaires whose idea of tragedy is to be left off the A-list party circuit at Davos, and whose notions of governance and oversight are reflected in the fox-guarding-the-hen house board structure of the New York Federal Reserve, where, for instance, Richard Fuld Jr. was a director until the collapse of Lehman Brothers. What the regulars at this fabled Swiss resort did not appear to grasp is that the breezier than usual air this year was the cold wind of change brought on by the bitter storm of betrayal and personal devastation that millions around the world have felt as a result of Wall Street’s greed and the failures of those expected to regulate it.
Two years ago on these pages -and much longer ago in other media- we talked about how visionless and out of touch this group had become. It is, in many ways, symbolic of the leadership deficit that created the circumstances of greed and over-leveraging, ineffective governance and inept regulation that brought the world to its economic knees.
Since the pampered, pumped-up participants at Davos predictably added few, if any, insights that were new, different or particularly hopeful this year, we thought we would reprint our observations from 2007.
Tell me one major sea-changing event that has been anticipated or predicted at Davos in the past two decades. Show me a crisis that has been averted. Everything takes place in rear-view time… In many respects the image is one of myopic leaders still sitting atop the overreaching and unsustainable and who refuse to recognize the existence of icebergs until the Titanic calamity occurs.
Of all the deficits and shortages in the world today, it is the lack of genuine character in so many leaders and the absence of truly transformative leadership that is the most striking. In this, Davos is an apt mirror. One sees in this annual Alpine pilgrimage to Davos fragments of the grainy black and white movies showing the imperial families of Europe gathering in their toy soldier costumes and opulent surroundings, oblivious to the marshalling clouds of change and discontent that would bring their primacy to an end.
It seemed to catch a glimpse of the wreckage to come.