Davos 2014: What we learned
- 26 January 2014
- From the section Business
Davos 2014. About 2,500 global leaders and 1,500 business heavyweights have been up the mountain - and now they're heading down again. So what came out of this year's attempt to put the world to rights? Here's a summary.
Iran declared itself open for business
The very fact that the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was here caused ripples of excitement across Davos. It's the first time in ten years that an Iranian president has attended the World Economic Forum and he came with a message: Iran is ready to engage with the rest of the world, and he wants his country to become one of the ten global economies.
But the statement was treated with some scepticism by the US. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told the BBC that companies "should proceed with caution".
"I think it would be a big mistake for companies to over-read how open for business [Iran is]", he said.
Forward guidance is under scrutiny
The latest UK unemployment figures on Wednesday showed the rate fell to 7.1%, very close to the threshold at which the Bank of England had said it would consider a rate rise - and much earlier than expected by the Bank's "forward guidance" policy.
As a result, all anyone wanted to know from the Bank of England's governor, Mark Carney, was - is he considering a rate rise?
In a BBC Newsnight interview he said he wasn't, and that the UK's economic recovery "has some way to run before it would be appropriate to consider moving away from the emergency settling of monetary policy".
And he underlined that point in a later briefing. But the BBC's business editor, Robert Peston, pointed out that not all Bank of England policymakers share his view, and that Mr Carney could be outvoted.
Davos has become touchier and feelier
Increasingly, it's not just business and politics being discussed at the forum. Last year, for the first time, there was a mindfulness meditation session on the programme. This year there were many - including one led by the actress Goldie Hawn - and it was mentioned frequently.
There was a big emphasis on health, with chief executives of multinationals keen to stress how they were helping both their own staff in their "wellness" and the developing world.
The "sharing economy" was suggested as the way forward - the notion of making money out of sharing your car or your house as exemplified by firms such as Airbnd or car-sharing firms like ZipCar.
And in a session on authenticity, a panellist told us that just because our eyes were fully functioning, it didn't mean we could see properly. She compared her description of a tree - big brown thing with leaves - to a description from a blind friend of "a large white presence and when I hug it, it's warm".
Technology - job destroyer?
There was a lot of discussion about whether advances in technology would lead to a loss of jobs as more and more things become automated. This led to countless comparisons to the industrial revolution.
And it was surprising just how many - including Google's Eric Schmidt - thought that, although these developments in technology were a good thing, it would result in more people being jobless.
"The jobs problem will be the defining one of the next ten to twenty years," Mr Schmidt said in a small discussion on the sidelines of the Economic Forum.
One participant - who argued that algorithms were already doing most jobs including writing a magazine - came up with a very unexpected argument (for Davos anyway). Imagine the day when all jobs were done by robots, and we were left to choose how we spent our days - without being driven by the need to pay the mortgage. What a radical thought!
There's potential for a military clash between China and Japan
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was here to discuss his economic strategy of getting rid of the country's long standing problem of deflation. The strategy is known as "Abenomics" - not his choice, he hastened to point out.
But what the forum was left discussing - and worrying about - was Japan's relationship with China. Tensions have been rising for some time, but just how bad they are was brought home during the event.
In a private briefing with journalists, Mr Abe said relations between the two countries were similar to that of Britain and Germany just before World War One and that he saw China's increase in defence budget as a provocation.
The chief executive of Renault-Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, told the BBC's Linda Yueh that Japan's business community was pressuring the government to resolve the issue. The award-winning economist Nouriel Roubini has identified a military clash as one of the risks of 2014.