It's that time of the year again, as 2,600 politicians, thought leaders, executives, and media elites make their way to a mountain in Switzerland. What compels them to make the trek? As usual, the summit--and the jet-fueled pilgrimage to attend--gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'It's not where you are; it's who you're with." A lot of excitement as everyone congregates. For my first post, I'll talk through what--and who--to expect.
Firstly, I'd just like to say how thrilled I am to be the Huffington Post's 'man on the ground' here in Davos. I'll be regularly updating this blog to give you a front row seat as events unfold--and, as always, a dose of my characteristically cranky global political outlook.
What to Expect
The World Economic Forum has set the catchphrase for this year's summit: 'Resilient Dynamism." If that's difficult to digest, it's because the risk outlook is equally cloudy and disparate. In a sentence, I take the term to mean that, in a world of shocks that strike faster and from less predictable sources, the ability to navigate them--and even grow because of them-- is paramount. Arianna Huffington's take on the term is particularly engaging. In short, last year's meeting was dominated by eurozone crisis response. This year, that risk has abated considerably, and it accordingly fades within the packed slate of issues that will compete for attention.
So what's the unifying challenge through all the noise? As the world struggles to bolster its resilience against economic and political uncertainty, the key risk is the increasing vulnerability of elites. We're seeing leaders of all kinds, in the developed and developing world, in politics as well as business and media, answering to constituents who grow more dissatisfied... and information-rich. Look at the riots in India over the recent rape scandal, the US Congress' abysmal approval ratings, or the phone hacking scandal at News Corp. Corruption, special interests, or a lack of transparency will spell trouble for leaders. The same goes for a widening gap between rich and poor. The threat to elites of all kinds comes in multiple forms: leaders who are battling for legitimacy will struggle to pursue long-term objectives rather than resort to reactive, 'quick fix' approaches. And in some instances, it could destabilize the very institutions--or even governments-- that these elites represent.
I chair the Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk, where we outline the growing vulnerability of elites--as well as key risks and opportunities more generally--in our report that launched today. Feel free to take a look at the report in more depth.
En route to #Davos. Going to be a very different feel this year: financial crisis behind us, but inequality on the rise. 1/2— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 22, 2013
En route to #Davos. Political elites more vulnerable; business elites aren't...but probably should be. 2/2— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 22, 2013
Who's Turning Heads
Last year, Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde were the big draws, and their speeches/comments stood out above the Davos noise. This year they are both attending again and their contributions will, of course, be highly anticipated. But with less attention on the eurozone, some other plenaries are very much 'must-sees' this year. I'd specifically flag David Cameron in the wake of the UK's existential concerns regarding its EU status, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, in light of increasing tension between the US and Russia.
Last year's #Davos, Merkel and Lagarde were the belles of the ball. Suspect much less cohesion this week..but tilt of focus to US.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 22, 2013
Medvedev, Cameron among the biggest #Davos plenaries this year, w exceptionally difficult messages to sell.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 22, 2013
For a breakdown of attendees at Davos, Quartz put out an interesting piece. Some highlights: a full two-thirds of Davos attendees hail from North America or Europe (no wonder we see such focus on the eurozone crisis!). Africa and South America? Just 4.8% and 3.1%, respectively.
Every year, Davos has celebrity attendees who take their share and more of media attention. Last year, it was Mick Jagger. The early front-runner for 2013? Charlize Theron, here representing her native South Africa. Celebrity sightings make heads swivel--but they don't move the needle much when it comes to the focus of Davos debate.
Ian Bremmer is writing a Davos Diary exclusively for Huffington Post, and will update it several times daily.