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World Economy Forum

Some optimism during gloomy mood of Davos 2009

James I Davison's picture

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as optimistically predicted his country’s growth in 2009. Image credit: worldeconomicforum at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
I've seen quite a few stories this week about the World Economic Forum, which is entering its last two days in Davos, Switzerland. Not surprisingly, accounts coming out of the annual meeting have reflected the gloomy state of a global economy in the midst of financial crisis. Seems the event's past reputation of being a party for wealthy people and celebrities has been replaced with politicians, average government workers and others discussing – as the 2009 event has been dubbed – "Shaping the Post-Crisis World."

A story that stuck out at me came from the New York Times, which quoted Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, as optimistically predicting the country’s growth in 2009 at 8 percent. That’s pretty optimistic compared to many other economist predictions – some as low as 4 percent or less for the year.

In time of economic crisis, influential thinkers contemplate future

David Dollar's picture

The World Economic Forum, billed as the largest-ever brainstorming on the global agenda, drew about 700 people to Dubai in early November. Image credit: worldeconomicforum at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
Seven hundred self-styled “smart people” got together in Dubai on Nov. 7-9 under the auspices of the World Economic Forum for what was billed as the largest-ever brainstorming on the global agenda -- that is, the priorities for global action. The event had been planned for a long time, but the deepening global financial and economic crisis naturally colored the discussions. I was part of the trade facilitation group -- under Harvard professor Robert Lawrence -- which worked closely with the trade policy group under Ernesto Zedillo, director of Yale University’s Center for the Study of Globalization. The most fun was the unstructured morning in which we could interact as we chose with any of the 66 other groups. I spent time with the groups working on the future of China, climate change, and growth and development. The official summary is on the WEF website, but I took away three main points from the interesting weekend.

It is striking how well the global trade system is working, even as the global financial system spirals into crisis. This is not to say that global trade is immune from the crisis, far from it. Trade finance has contracted sharply and the World Bank projects that total global trade in 2009 will decline for the first time since 1982. But what is striking is that global trade has a well-defined set of rules and an institution (the World Trade Organization) to oversee them. Global finance, on the other hand, does not have a well-defined set of rules and regulations. Until now, the system of global trade continued to work well.