No values in Davos

Unfortunately I did not get to the call to attend this year’s World Economic Forum in the exclusive Swiss skiing resort of Davos.

But judging by the coverage of the annual jamboree for the global business elite there are advantages to staying behind in London.

The over-riding theme of this year’s conference is “shared norms for a new reality”. Yet even an interview with Klaus Schwab, the founder of the event, failed to clarify what this means.

Like many others before him Schwab declared that “we are living in a completely new reality”. As I argued in a Fund Strategy cover story last year pundits have declared time and again over several decades that the world has entered a new era.

Schwab gives little evidence to support his claim. He points to the rise of the emerging economies but this trend has been clear for many years. In addition, he says we live in a post-crisis world. That might be news to those living in many troubled eurozone countries but even if it were true it would not mean the world is completely different. This is not to say that nothing has changed but it is an exaggeration to say that everything has. (article continues below)

It is also hard to see exactly what these shared norms will be. Schwab’s claim that “We are now living in the age of total global togetherness” is open to question. Although international trade and financial links are arguably greater than ever before the nation state remains a powerful force in world affairs. In addition, there is still a huge divide between the rich and poor. Such divisions cannot easily be papered over by simply declaring shared norms.

It seems more likely that what Schwab is really concerned about is the lack of shared values, or perhaps any values at all, among the global elite. Apparently it finds it hard to work out what it stands for nowadays.