Davos: Change the world?

… or just network with the in-crowd? Ben Chu reports from the slopes

Oxfam recently produced an analysis showing that that the world's 100 richest individuals earned enough money in 2012 to end extreme poverty around the world four times over.

The charity concluded: "It is time our leaders reformed the system so that it works in the interests of the whole of humanity rather than a global elite."

Global elite? Did someone mention Davos?

As it happens, that select club of globe-trotting corporate titans and international powerbrokers gathers today for its annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Some 2,500 company executives, heads of state, central bank chiefs, garlanded academics and a smattering of celebrities (Charlize Theron is on stardust-sprinkling duty this year) will gather for five days in a head-spinning succession of high-powered seminars and opulently catered parties.

So what's it all for? Well, there's no concrete objective. Davos does not produce a communiqué.

The WEF says its goal is "improving the state of the world". But there's no commitment on any of the participants to go back home and actually do anything. So is it all just hot air in a cold climate? Devotees insist not.

They argue that Davos offers a unique opportunity for the top brass of the business world and the planet's most influential politicians to get together in an informal setting to discuss the world's challenges.

So who's going to Davos this year? And what topics will the global elite be discussing?

Bankers and regulators

Davos has long been a bankers' playground, and this year is no different. Scores of senior representatives from the world's megabanks will be in attendance to lick their wounds after a cascade of scandals in 2012, from Libor-fixing to money laundering.

Some grand names stand out. Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan will be sitting on a panel, his first public appearance since being hit by a $10m (£6.3m) pay cut for failing to spot that one of his London traders was racking colossal losses. Lloyd Blankfein, the boss of Wall Street rival Goldman Sachs, will be speaking on a panel. The subject is an appropriate one for boss of the Vampire Squid: "competitiveness". John Hourican, the head of RBS's investment bank, is supposed to be attending, despite rampant rumours that he will be forced to carry the can for the majority taxpayer-owned bank's Libor manipulation.

The bankers' regulators, too, will be out in force. The incoming Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, will be taking part in a session on Saturday. Perhaps he might spare a word of commiseration for Adair Turner, the chair of the Financial Services Authority, who was a disappointed contender for Threadneedle Street and another Davos attendee.

Both men can expect to be buttonholed by their commercial banker colleagues on the folly of imposing new capital requirements and regulations on the financial sector at a time when economies need bankers to turn on the lending taps.

The corporate titans

What environment could be more convivial for the head of a multinational business than multinational Davos?

Martin Sorrell, boss of the world's biggest advertising firm, WPP, will, as usual be stalking the hotels and conference centre halls. Cheryl Sandberg of Facebook will also make the trip, as will Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola.

Executives are likely to swap notes over how best to handle the public anger over corporation-tax avoidance. Paul Polman of Unilever has called for business to embrace a more ethical approach. Mr Sorrell has sounded a similar note, saying that "doing good is good business". The largest corporate "do gooder" in history, Bill Gates, will be on hand to tell them how it's done.

Times are tough for the masters of business, but there is also a sense among some participants that things could be getting better. Share prices are picking up around the world. The US Congress veered away from the fiscal cliff. And the sizeable Chinese contingent at Davos will find themselves even more popular than usual now that the oriental giant seems to have dodged a hard economic landing.

The politicians

This time last year the great shadow hanging over Davos was the eurozone crisis. This year, largely thanks to last summer's intervention by the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, the threat of a break-up of the single currency has receded.

Mr Draghi will proffer his thoughts in a speech on Friday. The speech of the outgoing technocrat prime minister, Mario Monti, today will be carefully scrutinised. So will Angela Merkel's tomorrow. Will the German Chancellor strike a more hard-line note on a bailout for feckless southern Europeans after her party's surprise defeat in a Lower Saxony poll at the weekend?

David Cameron will also fly in tomorrow after making his great delayed speech on Britain's future in the European Union. How will the CEOs and continental politicians react to the Prime Minister's referendum promise? A thumbs down could really sour his après ski. George Osborne will be speaking on Thursday with his pre-release copy of the final quarter of 2012 GDP figures tucked in his breast pocket. Another hot topic will be unorthodox monetary policy.

Mr Carney has floated a nominal GDP target. Everyone will want to hear whether he drops any more hints.

The academics

Davos loves Nobel prize laureates. No fewer than 14 of them are attending this year, including big-name economists Joe Stiglitz and Christopher Pissarides. The big debating point looks likely to be the impact of austerity in the wake of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) bombshell research last year suggesting it had underestimated the damaging effect of budget cuts. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, might push the case privately for a relaxation of scheduled cuts behind the scenes.

Less diplomatic, and more public, will be Larry Summers, the former US Treasury Secretary, who has long argued that governments – including our own – made a dreadful mistake by pivoting to austerity in 2010.

The great hedge-fund manager, George Soros, will also be liberally dispensing his poacher-turned-gamekeeper wisdom. And for those businessmen and women with a cultural hinterland, there will be talks from novelists Paulo Coelho and Henning Mankell.

So will minds be expanded? Might they even be changed? That's the Davos promise. The great pity is that there's no real way of testing whether it's true or not. Still, the canapés will be good. They always are.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness