“Now, working elbow to elbow with billionaires, I was a giant fireball of greed.” –Sam Polk
BREAK it down: Obscenely rich people from 2013 meet in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss how to get ludicrously rich in 2014; Japan’s Abe reminds Western leaders that a new [Sino-Japanese] arms race in East-Asia could jeopardize their wealth; American companies don’t get rich fast enough in China, blame the government; and old Europe is kind of history.
Meeting of the “bosses”
For a couple of days, the world was held hostage by the wealthy notables of our species: The World Economic Forum has turned into the world’s biggest fete for greedy business elites, power-savvy political leaders, and hundreds of globally recognized public intellectuals who take the Davos Forum as serious as actors do the Academy Awards. Under this year's motto 'Reshaping of the World' “more than 1,500 business leaders from the Forum’s 1,000 Member companies took part,” says the website; and it continues: “more than 2,500 participants, including over 30 heads of state or government” attended the 44th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. So, what did they talk about?
Japan is back, thanks to China
No one wanted to talk too much about the US, except about those unnecessary military campaigns and the surveillance of its friends, partners, and European allies. And if they had to comment on US economics, analysts did so in reference to China, as if they had to justify their shortcomings. But the true center stage of the World Economic Forum was taken by Japan. The third largest economy in the world seems to be only nation that has had enough of 'Socialism with Chinese characteristics' (that's how China calls its political and economic model) and urged the world community to stand up to China or else face dire consequences. Abe’s boldness might be remembered in the near future. So far, no other great power today, letting alone those tinsel nations of Europe, has had the confidence to openly confront China. Especially the Europeans fear that political pressure will cost them valuable market shares. China, meanwhile, has lost at least some respect for "tiny" economies. The People's Republic has already more billionaires than Germany, Britain, and France combined, but still counts itself as "developing country." Now, that's a scary thing, no?
China is the world’s greatest phenomenon
When Davos men talk about the future, it’s about 90% Asia. Have we finally come to an all-important transitory age when Asia returns to the center of the world? It is funny how the number of ‘China experts’ reached 50% of all economists attending. Just having visited Beijing, Shanghai, or Hong Kong once or twice, or having done business with a Chinese entrepreneur, will apparently qualify most Western CEOs and directors these days to make a bold statement about the past and future of the Chinese people. Being associated with China suddenly is a great prestige.
Europe declassed as “emerging country”
Your author truly felt sorry for the middle powers at Davos. The now have two superpowers that bully them around and take no orders. To make things worse, the Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting jokingly demanded to “de-classify” Europe as “an emerging country.” Not in the history of the world since Nietzsche's contempt for Europe's "self-dwarfing" have we witnessed such spiritlessness. The Economist magazine even quoted a corporate chief calling Europe the “land of the living dead.”
In the aftermath of Davos
In two days (Jan 31) China will celebrate its New Year: The ‘Horse’ symbolizes impulsivity , performance, and stubbornness. The Economist, The World Street Journal, and The New York Times have already started a huge (synchronized?) media campaign against China, echoing Washington’s great frustration with the sages of Beijing. Apparently, competition with home-grown entrepreneurs got so fierce in the Chinese market (with unforeseen cultural obstacles such as language barriers, erratic consumer behavior, code of conduct, or just Chinese being smarter than Mr. Smith thought), that many Western companies (like Google and Facebook, etc.) took offence and blame the absence of democracy or the rule of law. In reality, of course, China wants to build its own champions (like Baidu and Weibo, etc.), with great successes. Alibaba, the internet market place, is already bigger than Amazon and eBay combined, reports US Businessweek.
What does 'Reshaping of the World' even mean?
Despite the hospitality of the "Swiss civilization" and the rare opportunity of buying a original Rolex, Cartier, or Breitling watch, the Swiss Alps can feel very cold and isolated from the rest of civilization. The gathering of so much privilege and power talking about the reshaping of our world makes the experience all the more surreal.
Image credit: Marc Herrmann/Shutterstock.com