WEF: brainstorming in the Alps: for the 40th consecutive year, the mountain resort of Davos will bring world leaders together to discuss the most important socio-economic issues affecting each of us. Swiss News goes behind the scenes of the World Economic Forum (WEF) to examine its purpose--and its potential to spark change for our interconnected world.

Author:Hancock, Julia


Davos, in the eastern Alps, is probably best known as a holiday and ski destination. However, for the past four decades, it has also been the destination of politicians, business leaders, economists and academics, who gather each January to discuss subjects connected to the global economic climate--probably making it the most powerful annual get-together on the planet.

From January 26-30, some 2,500 people will meet once again for the WEF's Annual Meeting to discuss this year's theme "Shared Norms for the New Reality". The Forum itself describes the subject as reflecting the foremost concern of today's leaders: namely, "living in a world that is becoming increasingly complex and interconnected and, at the same time, experiencing an erosion of common values and principles that undermines public trust in leadership, as well as future economic growth and political stability".

Long gone, it seems, are the days when these discussions were steeped in apparent pomposity and self-importance, when most participants--and the countries they represented--appeared to bask in their own economic successes. The global economic crisis of the past half-decade has wiped away all signs of excessive confidence, with banks across the world forced to write down billions in poor investments from their balance sheets. This was followed by an economic crisis that has only recently shown signs of easing. Furthermore, the end of last year also saw many debt-riddled European nations teetering on the brink of ruin.

New global reality

Lee Howell, the World Economic Forum's head of programming, told Swiss News that this year the forum is working from the premise that now there really is a new global reality.

"After the financial crisis that led to the [global] economic crisis, there can be no reversion to the past. These were structural, not cyclical shifts. In the United States, the current situation has often been presented as a new normality--but our view is that there can be no return to the situation prior to the crisis.

"Prior to the crisis, there was too much macro-economic imbalance in the global economy--excessive saving in some parts of the world and too little saving in others. Rebalancing has not occurred," Howell explained. "This problem has already been recognised, as we saw at the G20 [a group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors from around the world] meeting in Seoul in November--but the member countries cannot agree...

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