Davos World Economic Forum Begins With a Focus on Capitalism on the Brain

Davos kicks off with a sober speech, but they will focus on more than the economy, writes Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Fabrice Coffrini, AFP / Getty Images

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.

The early-morning opening session on reshaping energy consumption drew a full house as energy leaders from Saudi Arabia, People’s Republic of China, America, and the Netherlands led a debate on fixing the planet. A sister session called “The Architecture of Change,” led by Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos, will focus on sustainable architecture.

Davos is about dialogue, and each day a number of fascinating voices are on the agenda. Highlights on Wednesday are Nobel laureate Ahmed H. Zewail, who will discuss how science can help solve global challenges. A host of authors and artists (Carmen Boullosa, Augustin Maurs, Unwana Udobang, and Ken Watanabe) will host what promises to be an inspiring discussion called “Powerful Storytelling.”

An in-depth session on cybercrime called “Dark Side of Connectivity” will focus on the timely debate on whether the emergence of technology and connectivity poses a veiled threat to geopolitical systems.

Throughout the week, leaders will focus on regions in transition under the rather broad rubric “The New Context.” Wednesday’s discussions focused on East Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Arab world.

The days are full, but as usual in Davos, the postconference dinners and private parties are where the real business will be done. Wednesday night, Newsweek Daily Beast-Credit Suisse will host a joint dinner in honor of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee.