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World Economic Forum kicks off in Davos

The logo of the World Economic Forum.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The see-and-be-seen place this week is Davos, Switzerland. The World Economic Forum is beginning -- 2,500 people pondering everything from the global recovery to climate change.

From the European Desk, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.


Stephen Beard: Let's be frank, the Forum's agenda doesn't sound exactly riveting.

Klaus Schwab: The role of the annual meeting in Davos is to provide a systemic, strategic overview about all what's important on the global agenda...

As the Forum's founder Klaus Schwab explains it's all about complexity and interconnectedness. Or according to the Forum's official title this year, "Shared Norms for the New Reality." What does that mean?

Justin Urquhart Stewart: I don't think it makes any sense to anybody at all except overpaid consultants who come up with this drivel.

That's London based fund manager, Justin Urquhart Stewart. He's what you might call a "Davos skeptic."

Urquhart Stewart: Davos is a commercial operation designed effectively to be really rather no more than an upmarket, face-to-face Facebook.

Beard: So it's all about networking in your view?

Urquhart Stewart: It's a huge networking operation.

Thirty-five national leaders including the Russian and French presidents, the British prime minister and the German chancellor will be there. So will the U.S. Treasury secretary.

China is sending its largest ever delegation. Chris Rowley of the Cass Business School says the Chinese want to flex their economic muscles.

Chris Rowley: They feel they need to be taken seriously as a world player. It's not just the sweatshop of the world producing thousands of cheap t-shirts. They see themselves as an important economic entity in their own right. So it's to reflect that glory almost.

There are many workshops and seminars on the subject of China. And -- rather alarmingly for the U.S. -- there's a session called "Reshaping the American Economy," which is led by a Chinese academic.

Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, speaking from Davos, says the waning of American dominance has been obvious at these gatherings for some years.

Gideon Rachman: The days of maybe 10 years ago, even seven, eight years ago, when people looked above all to Americans for guidance as to how things were going to be economically or politically -- those days are over. There's now a competing array of voices here in Davos.

And a competing array of issues. Under discussion: The global recovery, is the financial system back on track, and what about climate change, world poverty and the Eurozone crisis. Cynics dismiss all this as a pointless gabfest. But if it were, says Rachman, Bill Gates and other heavy hitters wouldn't turn up. Where else would they find so many rich, powerful and clever people to do deals with in one place?

Rachman: You can meet the head of the IMF, the head of the World Bank, leaders of the Eurozone, the chancellor of Germany, Bill Gates, the head of Bank of America, whatever. They're all here.

And there's the usual sprinkling of showbiz glitz. At least one movie star will attend the forum this year.

Robert de Niro: You talking to me? You talking to me?

Actor and director Robert de Niro, who will no doubt adopt a less aggressive tone in the Davos talking shop this week.

This is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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