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Harsh Words

George Soros Takes Critical Stand

Against the European Union.

George Soros took a hard line against the European Union at Davos on Wednesday. While he thinks the EU and its currency can be saved, he had harsh words for its current leadership and policies, saying, "I'm not sure if authorities (in the EU) are deliberately prolonging the crisis, or if this is being driven by divergent views.” He laid out two steps he thinks must be taken to turn the situation around; he said the structure of the European Union must be changed and that the organization must encourage economic stimulus rather than austerity to revive the beleaguered euro.

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Saffron

Gross National Happiness

Altruism is a pretty rare concept at Davos, but this saffron-robed monk is a regular, and he knows how to speak his truth to power.

I first met Matthieu Ricard, France's most famous Buddhist monk, on the way to a Davos forum six or seven years ago. Though he was dressed in his saffron robes, which are fairly conspicuous on a flight to Zurich, what struck me was the series of photographs I could see him editing on his laptop: remarkable shots of people in the Himalayas that eventually went into his spectacular book Tibet: An Inner Journey. Ricard, the son of the late philosopher Jean-François Revel (Without Marx or Jesus), is probably best known for his own philosophical books that deal, quite literally, with the pursuit of happiness. In this brief interview at the Davos conference center, he talked about the power of altruism and the need to change the way we measure our values.

Kaffee Klatsch

Capitalism and Croissants

Peter Mandelson spins the political future in 2012.

There’s something about breakfast debates at Davos that kills the appetite.

It’s not the food. At luxury hotels like the Seehof, where the ubiquitous British (and European) politician Peter Mandelson held forth alongside Mark Penn, the American CEO of the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, this morning, the croissants are quite acceptable. But everyone was so focused on the speakers in the tight little Alpine dining room that nobody wanted to reach for a coffee pot or a pain au chocolat.      

First we heard some quick and dirty prognostications about the two big elections this year.

In the United States in November: Obama wins, the panelists think, thanks to the imploding Republican Party.

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Capitalism on Trial at Davos

The World Economic Forum kicks off Wednesday with a sober speech by Angela Merkel, a powerful reminder that the post-crisis economy will be at the forefront. But there are plenty of other things on the agenda this year, including the environment, architecture, and arts and culture, writes Barbie Latza Nadeau.

The obvious focus of the World Economic Forum’s 2012 confab is fixing the global economy, with less-than-subtle attention on Europe’s current spiral into the economic abyss. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated to open the 2012 meeting on Wednesday afternoon with a sober address that will begin four days of Europe-centric panel discussions.

WEF organizers set the stage on Wednesday for intense panel discussions to come through primer sessions. “The Global Business Context” is designed to give insight into how businesses can come to terms with the new business realities and repurpose old strategies with a powerful panel anchored by John T. Chambers of Cisco and Thomas Enders of Airbus. “The Future of Economics” will paint a bleak picture of the future of post-crisis economics and lay out alternative approaches for the stormy days ahead, led by Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute, Robert Shiller of Yale, Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, and Heizo Takenaka of the Global Security Research Institute.

Capitalism is the buzzword on Wednesday with a morning debate between Sharan Burrow, Brian Moynihan, Raghuram Rajan, David Rubenstein and Ben Verwaayen that effectively put capitalism on trial.

But it’s not just the economy on the agenda in snowy Davos. On Wednesday, alternatives to the economy include a dynamic offering of topics from combating cybercrime to the realities of global sustainability. There is also an admirable focus on arts and culture this year, with daily offerings for leaders to learn how to stimulate creative work environments. To temper the gloom, an impressive exhibit is on display in the Congress Center called “Traditions in Contemporary Art” with works by Massimo Lunardon, Jan De Vliegher, Claudy Jongstra, Drue Kataoka, and Michael Wolf.

TURN OUT THE LIGHTS

The Party’s Over at Davos

The World Economic Forum’s annual Davos conclave used to be an occasion for ebullient world leaders to assure one another that globalization was the way of the future. Now they’re just trying to figure out what the future will look like.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the politicians and corporate executives who gathered among the mountaintops of Davos, Switzerland, saw themselves as masters of the universe. But as they assemble here this week for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, that whole old world, like a fairy tale turned monster movie, seems to be well beyond their control. 

Klaus Schwab

World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab hosts a session at the forum Tuesday (Fabrice Coffrini, AFP / Getty Images)

Europe is wallowing in debt that almost nobody wants to buy. The United States is crawling out from under its toxic finances slowly, very slowly, with so much partisan bickering that its politicians sometimes seem like self-destructive adolescents racing toward a cliff in a game of chicken. Even the new hypersonic engines of global growth—China and India—are slowing down. And as money races from one shaky refuge to another, economic stability seems a distant memory indeed.

But hey, the gloom doesn’t stop there. A just-issued World Economic Forum report tells us that 52 percent of the 345 “global experts” it consulted in government, business, international organizations, and academia believe that in the next few months there will be a major geopolitical event—say, a war (think Iran)—that will add dire new uncertainties to the mix. That’s up from 36 percent predicting variations on doom last quarter.

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Complete Davos Schedule

From Angela Merkel’s opening address to a panel discussing the future of capitalism see the complete program for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting.

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