The third day at the World Economic Forum was a series of set political pieces, with a sprinkling of introspection and perspective from business leaders and attending columnists.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, responding to the diplomatic charm offensive of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, said Washington’s “Iran effort is grounded in testing, not in trusting.”
He said Iran, which hopes to trade limiting of its nuclear program – especially stopping enrichment of weapons-grade uranium – against easing of crippling economic sanctions, “has every opportunity to prove itself beyond all doubt to the world.”
Kerry was not the only political leader in the limelight on Friday. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Britons needed to be patient about pay rises, but that more firms were re-shoring jobs back to Britain.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney threw some doubt on claims of recovery, saying the UK economy had yet to hit “escape velocity.” Carney predicted that the national bank would need to continue supporting economic growth for a period.
But it was the French Finance Minister, Pierre Mosovici, who took the day’s political “speak out” award, lambasting those who bashed France, which has had sluggish growth, as “the sick man of Europe.”
“If being the sick man of Europe is being the fifth economy in the world, with GDP broader than Britain, the second economy in Europe… it is good to be sick,” Mosovici said.
Meanwhile, among the glamour and glitter of the world’s most exclusive networking event, many participants focused on being sure they were included where the after-session action is; “At World Economic Forum, Even the Serious-minded Like to Party,” headlined The New York Times.
“For a certain crowd in Davos, the big topic this year has nothing to do with Syrian peace talks, cyber-security issues or other geopolitical gravitas,” the newspaper said. The burning question is how to get invited to the right parties – called night caps and held long after the official sessions have ended.
In The Guardian, a new Davos-related parlor game was unveiled this week. If, the Guardian website said, you have somehow failed to get invited, you can invent high-brow and complicated phrases along with the 2,500 participants, who don’t shy away from the occasional flights of polysyllabic indulgence. But, says Financial Times columnist John Gapper, the problem was that Davos, despite the parties and whirl of events, feels old and staid. “The excitement is with the revolutionaries – the technology companies that promise to remodel the world, not just to strike a compromise with the existing ones,” Gapper said.
He quoted Steve Jobs of Apple, saying:
“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”
Gapper said technology faces its own new and deep credibility problems, with Google and others targeted for avoiding taxes and embarrassed by revelations about the National Security Agency’s intelligence activities.
“The enterprises that promise liberation through technology have became conduits for government surveillance,” Gapper said, echoing a growing theme.
The “digital dangers” of a networked society, where citizens’ every online activity (and so much of our life is mediated online) can be traced, stored and used against them, seems to be a growing issue for all CCOs. It is also knocking some of the halo off technology, which is the most trusted sector consistently in the Edelman trust study, the 2014 version of which Richard Edelman unveiled in Davos on Wednesday.
In the annual global survey conducted by Edelman, 79 percent of people said they trusted tech companies, compared with 59 percent for energy groups and 51 percent for banks.
For CCOS, examining the trust study closely will open a rich seam of insights that can be used, long after the lights have been turned down again at the session halls and parties in Davos.
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