Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Sunday, 1 February 2009

Davos finds no answers to crisis

By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website, in Davos

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke of cutthroat competition

The World Economic Forum has ended with a call to rebuild the global economic system.

Founder Klaus Schwab announced a "global redesign initiative" to reform banking, regulation and corporate governance.

For five days, more than 2,000 business and political leaders discussed what some here called the "crisis of capitalism".

However, most discussions described the problems, not solutions.

The forum's official theme this year had been "shaping the post-crisis world", but that turned out to be premature.

Rather, the debates proved the widespread uncertainty amongst both politicians and corporate bosses, as they tried to gauge the depth of the economic crisis and explore ways how to get out of it.

Nobody in Davos tried to refute the prediction that the global economy is heading into a deep and long recession.

One top money market manager said: "If you believe that the world economy will turn the corner at the end of this year, or in [the first quarter] of 2010, I tell you we have not turned the corner, we can't see the corner, we don't even know where the corner is."

We worshiped in the temple of cutthroat competition, and so some cooked the books, because the treasure is so great
Desmond Tutu, South African Archbishop

Another participant summed up the state of the discussion as "we don't know what to do, only that we need to do something and we need to do it fast".

With the old certainties of the free market gone, even free marketeers accepted the need for more regulation, quick.

Professor Schwab said the current situation was a perfect example of where banks could take the lead and devise a system of self-regulation, and not wait for governments to regulate it.

It may be too late for that, though, with politicians from Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling for a global regulator to ensure a smoother running of the international financial system.

Capitalism revisited

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said "we worshipped in the temple of cutthroat competition, and so some cooked the books, because the treasure is so great".

Capitalism is the worst system except for all those others that have been tried
Nouriel Roubini

"We spend billions on banks," Mr Tutu said, "when we know that a fraction of this money could save all the children in the world."

Not every intended recipient of this message was present, though. The top bosses of most Wall Street banks had cancelled their trips to the Swiss mountains and stayed in the office.

It might have been for the better, because even here, in this temple of arch-capitalism, there were calls for swift criminal punishment of the people who caused the crisis coming from fellow chief executives.

Nonetheless, nearly everybody agreed that while capitalism needed fixing, it wasn't irreparably broken.

Nouriel Roubini, one of the few economists that accurately predicted the credit crunch, was not the only one to use a variation of a Churchill quote: "Capitalism is the worst system except for all those others that have been tried."

Power balance

The annual Davos meeting is also a good place to take stock of the geopolitical landscape. It was here that one could track the rise of emerging economies like India and China.

Record numbers of heads of state and government had come to Davos, mostly cloistered away in face-to-face meetings with their counterparts and key business leaders.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao described how his country was tackling the financial crisis

It was no coincidence that the keynote speeches on the first day had been reserved for China's Premier Wen Jiabao and Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

However, with even China's economy at a crawl, and the value of Russia's oil wealth plummeting, their speeches proved that the economic crisis is truly global, and hurting around the world.

In April, the spotlight will be on the G20 meeting in London, where leading politicians both from industrialised and emerging economies will debate ways out of the crisis.

Professor Schwab attempted some expectation management. "The G20 will not solve everything," he said, "it won't address the totality of the issue."

Poverty trap

Probably the biggest worry, apart from getting the world economy "out of intensive care" (Prof Schwab), was the threat of protectionism.

Raising trade barriers now, politicians, business leaders and campaigners agreed, would have a devastating impact, for starters on the economies of rich countries, but even more so on poorest people in the world.

The Davos organisers tried hard to ensure that the crisis of the financial system did not take away all the attention from the fight against poverty, but it was difficult.

After all, it was a long list of problems that the global elites had to discuss during their five days of soul-searching.

What had once been seen as a long schmoozefest, a show-off party of the rich and powerful, had bumped into reality.

The strikes in France and the UK had not gone unnoticed, and business leaders were acutely aware that millions of people hurt by the crisis were angry, very angry. And in case they forgot, there were plenty of social activists and trade unionists here to remind them.

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