World leaders can agree on the same ambitious goals for encouraging a more global economy, but not the means for arriving there
DAVOS - There is true consensus at Davos: it can no longer be business as usual. Heads of state, corporate leaders and intellectuals gathered here share the belief that we must establish "shared norms for a new reality," to borrow the title theme of this year's edition of the World Economic Forum. That's planning for the long haul!
We've needed new rules for finance after the terrible mess of the 2008 meltdown. Moreover, food security must be improve; it would be criminal not to push forward on negotiations for climate change; and dwindling natural resources will be our next great challenge. And, above all, no country can continue working in its own little corner, according to its own particular interests, a point that has been made in different ways by figures as varied as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The last century was that of the nation-state, until their mortal, repeated clashes. The new century is that of globalization, so often celebrated in Davos.
And yet…while we see much convergence towards the ends, there is much less agreement on the means, as happens when we suddenly find we are no longer in a hurry. In finance, bankers argue that the essential is done, and deploy all their powers of persuasion to explain that the next crisis will come from others who are less well monitored. In food, countries like Russia and Ukraine blocked their exports last year. On the climate front, preparations for the Durban conference leave no hope for a more triumphant outcome than the summits in Cancun or Copenhagen.
Nicolas Sarkozy embodied the contradiction. Having come to speak at Davos as chair of the G8 and G20, he wanted to put forward practical solutions. But finding solutions means forcing change. And this affects short-term interests. To finance the $120 billion annually that developed countries have pledged to poor countries beginning in 2020, in order to help finance a greener economy, the French president spoke of micro taxation of financial transactions. The message fell on deaf ears in Davos.
The pessimists will draw the conclusion that the G20 is heading toward "G0", a term coined by the American scholar Ian Bremmer to indicate a world without leadership. The optimists will respond that the new ideas must to be repeated often enough to find their way inside to each one of our heads.
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