Thursday, January 24, 2008

Davos Days

I am afflicted by little darts of nostalgia every time the World Economic Forum at Davos comes around. I was a 'fellow' of the WEF for a couple of years in the nineties. I think it was some kind of bureaucratic error and they actually wanted Sir Bryan Appleyard, chairman of Gigantico Inc, Warden of All Souls and author of Golgotha: a Triptychal Vision of Humanity at the Crossroads, the greatest novel of our time. But they got me. It was a riot. One high point was laughing so much with the Balkan expert Misha Glenny that we both fell backwards in our chairs and were immediately photographed on the floor, still laughing. I never saw that picture. The first time he met me Klaus Schwab, who runs the show, said, 'Nice to meet you again' because, I realised, he assumes he has met everybody. The meetings - apart from the boring corporate ones - were pretty good. In those days they wanted to talk about really big ideas like the book I had just written, rather than just economics and politics. I also remember that, for some reason, I was given beef stroganoff at every lunch, but, one evening, I had the best curry of my life. The Indian government had flown it into Zurich on a 747. Really. Sadly, even though they thought I was Sir Bryan, it wasn't just for me. The primary dynamic in those days was the encounter between the rich nations and the Third World. Now, I suspect, it will be the shifting of economic power away from America towards Asia as the credit disaster unravels.


  1. Footnote: That Golgotha title was said to me by Nige.I think he was quoting Alan Coren.

  2. No need for nostalgia. Not only are the themes boring but apparently there is more security men around than delegates - the former call the shots and make the rules. I fear you and Misha Glenny would have been carted off to some cell if you got so uncontrollably giggly today.

    However, nothing to stop all of us here having a great laugh at some webcasts! Just do your health a favour, pick anything that will amuse you and let your imagination go - speakers certainly have not.

  3. I think you need to have a book, film and album to sell to qualify as a-list today/.

  4. At least you're not Paul Krugman, Bryan, reduced to blaming it on your wife.

    As to this:

    it will be the shifting of economic power away from America towards Asia as the credit disaster unravels.

    I assume they hope so, and it could happen, but like most things that come out of Davos, I expect it will come to naught. The Chinese stock market is wildly over-inflated and dominated by the rankest of speculators. The Chinese banking system makes the Japanese system of the '80's and '90's look like a model of moral and fiscal rectitude. It's property market is a house of cards that even Florida's swamp sellers would balk at. It's under-employed, subsistence-level masses number hundreds of millions. It's business practices are beginning to haunt it worldwide - just wait until someone actually gets a look at the real balance sheets of half of those companies. It's people are literally choking to death because of the lack of regulatory oversight, with countless workers dying prematurely in numbers not seen since hatters quit using mercury. The Chinese economy hasn't had a correction in almost a quarter century. Nothing lasts forever, and you know as well as I (you being a one-time financial reporter), that the longer the period between corrections the deeper the correction. Looks like they are due for a depression, not a recession. And when that happens, there goes the stock market, there goes the property market, there go the banks, and there go a few hundred million into the street as well, I bet. And there goes most of their 1.5 trillion - or at least most of what's left of it once their losses from the credit problems here are accounted for. If they are lucky, Three Gorges Dam will give way at the same time and they can get the entire mess out of their system at once. Because it's going to fail.

    As for India. Well, they'll do OK, but until they change their labor laws requiring companies employing over 20 people to provide lifetime employment whether needed or not, they are not going all that far.

  5. Bryan, you need to get out more. You are in danger of becoming a middle aged bore.

  6. Good grief - who said that?
    For the record, Golgotha is indeed from Alan Coren, and I think it's Triptychic rather than Triptychal...