Like spring colds and stalkers, the World Economic Forum at Davos sneaks up on you.
Like spring colds and stalkers, the World Economic Forum at Davos sneaks up on you. You battle through January's snowdrifts and short days and before you know it, you're circling an airfield 1500m above sea level waiting for Rupert Murdoch's jet to clear off the runway.
What does this year at Davos hold? If last year's WEF saw central bankers, politicians and businessmen on the precipice (metaphorical, not those of nearby Klosters), this year finds them a little more in control. Cast your mind back: the fourth quarter of 2008 was a write-off – or a write-down, if you prefer – after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Trust had melted like the globally-warmed Arctic ice shelves and it was not clear which firms – financial or otherwise – would survive. We were tobogganing down the Alps with no means of stopping.
But we survived. Issues such as how to prevent total financial collapse have been replaced with how to drain a system of the trillions of dollars injected in stimulus to prevent said collapse. The actions of banks surfing on the crest of this stimulus are now in our sights: how far can we go to stop banks glorying in profits that have been faciliated by the taxpayer? Can we – should we – restrict bonuses more than banks, wearing their transparent sack-cloth, have already?
Is President Obama going to find favour with his bash-the-banks policy? Darling has said no, Osborne has said yes (based on his principle of saying the opposite of everything Darling says). Europe has already broken up banks – Fortis now lies with disiecta membra across the continent – so it could continue, but even the radical European Commissioners have not yet dared simply to separate casino from retail. Will they now?
How far will Davos become a face-off between America and China? Or indeed the rest of the world and China? Premier Wen Jiabao will not attend, but his heir apparent, Li Keqiang, will, and he may have to face the unhappiness of other countries over the renminbi's low value, driving China back to growth through exports and making everyone else less competitive. And since Davos is not just attended by the moneymen, can we look forward to an awkward encounter between Sergey Brin, Larry Page and the Chinese attendees?
What about the future of Europe? People are already playing financial hokey-cokey with Greece's position in the Eurozone: in, out, break it all about. It isn't at all clear how the Eurozone can progress if the PIGS continue to squeal; could they be bacon this time next year?
And then there is climate change, the chestnut (out early this year thanks to climate change). Copenhagen was an embarrassment – do not forget the role of the BRICs in making that happen – and a ski resort hardly suggests imminent crisis. Can governments unite over this, or are the interests of polluters still much greater than their will to change, or at least to be seen to be changing?
So many questions, so few days.