Davos is full of fuzzy promises, empty platitudes, and naïve fantasies—but it’s still valuable

So many ideas to hear, so little time.
So many ideas to hear, so little time.
Image: Reuters/Ruben Sprich
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Markets are tanking and economies are faltering. Good thing, then, that this week the global elite assembled in Davos, under the World Economic Forum’s mantra of “improving the state of the world.”

It’s easy to scoff at the annual spectacle in the Alps as long on rhetoric and short on reality, which isn’t wrong. But while much of what is said at the panels and plenaries is vague, and quickly forgotten, even the tiniest spark of inspiration among a crowd this powerful has the potential to flare into action.

Indeed, at a private lunch for a group of CEOs (and a Quartz reporter), an exec said that business conditions are much more positive than the past few weeks’ brutal stock-market performance suggests. “Also, if we keep telling each other that, it becomes reality,” he added.

So what can the elites do to reboot global growth? At a panel moderated by Quartz during the conference, the tone was hopeful. “You can bring a country out of a mess” by investing in people, Irish prime minister Enda Kenny said, speaking from experience. What’s important is the “quality, not quantity” of growth, added Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, reacting to questions about what blunt measures of GDP have to do with inequality, happiness, and protecting the environment. And all agreed that governments and business should harness the huge potential of new technologies—what the Davos organizers have dubbed “the fourth industrial revolution”—while being mindful of the equally huge disruption to jobs and incomes.

Yes, Davos is dense with fuzzy promises, empty platitudes, and naïve utopian fantasies. But it also features a high-intensity dose of dreaming about how to make things better. And who better than Davos man, and occasionally woman, to give it a go?

This was published as part of the Quartz Weekend Brief. Sign up for our newsletters here, tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe & Africa, and the Americas.