This year the theme for Davos was “Creating A Shared Future in A Fractured World” and like every year was filled with hundreds of official panels, scores of semi-official breakfasts, lunch, dinner and “night-caps” and thousands of private meetings in secured locations all over the snow laden town. The sheer scope of the occasion makes any comprehensive summary difficult, since one only is exposed to a tiny fraction of what transpires, but here is one perspective on the key takeaways.
1.Economics Trump All.
This conference at its core remains a business and financial gathering and with worldwide stock markets at a record high, the mood was the most bullish in over a decade. Healthy financial markets and the expected –at least in the short term—benefits of the tax cut have eclipsed the darker and worrying behavior of the individual. The final score is money. Imperative to remember in a Machiavellian world.
2.China India America and the rise of Economic Nationalism.
The future is increasingly going to be driven by three countries, China, India and America. America has always been a dominant player and economically it has never looked stronger. This was India’s Davos starting with Sharukh Khan, India’s biggest star being feted at the opening awards ceremony (along with Elton John and Cate Blanchett), to Narendra Modi the Prime Minister given the opening keynote and 130 Indian CEO’s with huge delegations. While the Indian and US Presidents and delegations were around in large numbers the country that really stole the show was China. One of its efforts known as the One Belt, One Road Initiative launched in 2013 to connect via land and sea routes over 80 countries, 60 percent of the world’s population and nearly half the GDP is an indication of the sheer enormity and long term outlook of China’s ambitions.
3.Technology Everywhere with an emphasis on AI and Data Driven Platforms. And the need to learn. Facebook/Zuckerberg as Voldemort.
In the past, there used to be several panels on digital or mobile or technology but now technology is so pervasive that it is embedded into every conversation and every discussion. The breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence and the dominance of companies like Facebook who have harvested and monetized our data flavored many conversations. Here there was less optimism and some concerns particularly the impact of employment and whether the platform companies had grown too powerful.
The #Metoo movement was pervasive and while Davos is still predominantly (79%) men, the cultural impact of the recent Women’s movement was everywhere. Of particular note was a statistic that if women had the same opportunity as men to be in the workforce in Japan and India, the GDP of these countries would be 9 and 21 percent higher. While equal pay and equal participation and equal rights are a key to the movement, another focus is the impact that today’s women leaders have on the future generation.
5.The World Is Getting Better and Science and Reason are Key.
Today there are significant issues all around the world with millions in poverty, millions underfed and shut out from opportunities and in pain. But besides the economic boom, the rise of women and China and India and the wonders of technology that make things sometimes magical on a wide spectrum of measures the world is getting better, safer and richer. Yes, the world is getting much better than ever before because of reason, science and it is why it is these values that must be preserved and the real threat to the future is leadership of some countries including the United States who are either living in an imagined reality or scuttling investments in science and education.
The future is bright as long as we are willing to learn, think and understand the other.