x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Davos Man is on a slippery slope without his skis

You will all be familiar with Davos Man. According to the political scientist Samuel P Huntington, who is credited with inventing the phrase, they are mainly men with "little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing."

Nicolas Sarkozy is the lone black spot for Davos.
Nicolas Sarkozy is the lone black spot for Davos.

Davos Man has a dilemma. Does he go into the attic, dust down his skis and have them waxed in preparation for next week's Davos festival of chat, or does he stay at home and dodge the critics? Most likely, if he decides to go he will get his manservant or his second wife to hunt down his skis, because the most highly evolved animal on the planet is unlikely to get his hands dirty and risk hitting his highly coiffured head on a roof beam.

You will all be familiar with Davos Man. According to the political scientist Samuel P Huntington, who is credited with inventing the phrase, they are mainly men with "little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past, the only useful function of which is to facilitate the elite's global operations".

Last year, it turned out rather differently. Davos Man suddenly needed Mandarin Man because the efficient markets were threatening to blow the entire financial world into smithereens. Mr Davos's BlackBerry Bold, the newest model naturally, went into overdrive. His bonus was threatened, his hedge funds were sheared and his wives and mistresses turned toxic. Worst of all, he had to grovel to badly dressed men and women in Whitehall and on Capitol Hill.

Last year's Davos was a mute affair. Many Americans stayed away. No Vikram Pandit, the chief executive of Citigroup; no John Thain, the former head of Merrill Lynch who spent US$1.2 million (Dh4.4m) at the beginning of 2008 redecorating his office, complete with Versailles-style commode and a $25,000 parchment waste bin; and no Bob Diamond, the super-smug investment banking head of Barclays. Even Bono, the Irish rock-singer-turned-saviour of the world, decided that he was too busy recording a new album to get involved in "Shaping the post-crisis world". Too bad his album turned out to be a dud and sold about as quickly as a collateralised debt obligation last year.

No. Davos Man stayed away. It was a good decision. First, he would have had to listen to Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, declaring that "investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist". Then there was Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, who made scathing comments about the "inappropriate macroeconomic policies" of various countries and the "unsustainable model of development characterised by prolonged low savings and high consumption".

Worst of all, he might have had to share a canape with Nouriel Roubini, the batty New York professor who prophesied this whole collapse, and continues to preach doom and gloom. But we all know what happened next. Shortly after Davos, the first signs of revival stirred in global stock markets. Davos Man, cowed and humiliated, was bowed but unbeaten. Investment banks came roaring back. Soon they would be able to repay their bailouts and pay themselves even bigger bonuses.

Now they might be able to look Mandarin Man in the eye and do what they had been wanting to do for the past 12 months: sneer at his nylon suit and brown shoes. So who can we expect to see on skis next week in the glitzy Swiss resort? Lloyd Blankfein, the good Brooklyn boy who revived Goldman Sachs's fortune and told us recently he was doing "God's work". He will be there, along with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president; Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister; Josef Ackermann, chairman of Deutsche Bank; Melinda Gates, Bill's missus; Peter Sands, group chief executive of Standard Chartered; and Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google.

Strikes me that the boys are back in town. The only blackspot is Monsieur Sarkozy, who is threatening to give a talk on how to "Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild". Where has he been for the past 12 months? Canoodling with Carla? Doesn't he know the crisis is over? According to Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman and founder of the event, writing a personal message on his website, the forum is also expected to achieve this: "Improving the state of the world requires catalysing global co-operation to address pressing challenges and future risks.

"Global co-operation in turn needs stakeholders from business, government, the media, science, religion, the arts and civil society to collaborate as a true community. To this end, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting has engaged leaders from all walks of life to shape the global agenda at the start of the year for the last four decades." If I were Davos Man I would get the skis out of the loft and head straight to Zermatt.

@Email:rwright@thenational.ae