Davos 2011 not mainly an 'economic' forum
To me, this year's Davos is less about economics and more about a lot of other things.
It is more about geopolitics. While the global CEOs were overwhelmingly but cautiously optimistic about their business prospects due to the expected economic strength in the emerging economies, many pundits and politicians placed a heavier focus on geopolitical risks. Despite the track record, several pundits argued that the China Model would not be sustainable and that China would "blow up" because its "inferior" political system would catch up with the Chinese very soon. It seems that people with real business and money at stake are more willing to suspend their ideological doubts about the emergence of an alternative economic development model and to advance their business along with such a model, while the political types find that too hard to swallow.
This year's Davos was not an economic forum to me because discussions on capital flows, undoubtedly an economic topic, also ended up focusing on politics. On Friday, I joined South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Brazilian Central Bank President Alexandre Tombini and NYU Professor Nouriel Roubini to speak at a lunch panel on global capital flows to emerging markets. While the discussions started out focusing on economic policy, the conversation at my table quickly turned to the importance of politics. A heated discussion took place on the Hong Kong dollar -- why it is pegged to the U.S. dollar and whether it should be pegged to the renminbi. The conclusion was that while it may make perfect economic sense for the HKD to be pegged to the RMB, politically it is impossible. So politics trumped economics -- again.
The most memorable line from the Congress Hall was not about economics, either. It came when Bill Clinton criticized the Republicans for their continued dream talk about American exceptionalism and tea party-style small-government policies, saying that the United States has to stop "conducting its public policy as if it was in a parallel universe divorced from reality." By the way, it is very rare for the Congress Hall to generate a memorable comment, because this largest Davos venue tends to be reserved as a place for the highest-ranking politicians to deliver their policy speeches, many of which are so boring that the site is known as the "nap hall". Of course, we cannot blame everything on politicians because the other reason people take naps here is that it the hall is so big one can snooze without being noticed. And if you don't want to be anti-social and you hit those late-night parties with your new and old friends, the chances are you will need a nap somewhere the next day.
Another reason I don't view this year's Davos as primarily an economic forum is that one of the most useful sessions I attended was not about economics, but about parenting. No, I am not talking about a meeting with Amy Chua, who was harder to get hold of this year at Davos than any head of state. I am referring to the "Power Dad" session in the Young Global Leader (YGL) lounge, where a record 30 or so YGL fathers turned up to discuss the challenges of raising children. Curious CEOs and government ministers passed by, shook their heads disapprovingly at the group's apparent lack of gender balance and appeared to wonder what these intense-looking men were talking about. YGLs tend to be in the late 30s to early 40s, and our kids tend to be in the 3 - 10 range. YGLs also tend to travel quite a bit, with one telling me that he does not have a home city, or any furniture, and that his wife and young child simply live out of serviced apartments for a few weeks at a time wherever his work takes him. Travel poses a common challenge to us when we need to spend our time with our kids. Let me share a few ideas I jotted down, in case these may be useful to other parents with small kids:
- Enforce a no-BlackBerry policy when the kids are present.
- Do activities with your kids even if the activities may be completely pointless. For example, one YGL makes "soup for turtles" with his son by adding whatever powders they can find, and it is usually a lot of fun.
- Don't give your kids too many gifts, which could clutter your house and place too much focus on material possessions. Instead, reward them with experience.
- Use Skype not only to to communicate with your kids when you travel but also to establish a presence. One YGL dad found it was hard to have a long, structured conversation with his small kids via Skype, so he tres to Skype in when the kids are having dinner. Instead of using Skype only to talk, he simply leaves it on so he can see his kids eating and his kids can watch him working.
- The best idea I got was to leave small gifts and activities, and clues about them at home when you travel. With small kids, sometime it is hard to engage them on the phone. To address this problem, one frequently traveling YGL routinely leaves a note with an interesting remark hidden under a pillow, a piece of chocolate under a sofa cushion, or an art project in a drawer. His kids know that there are all these treasures in the house, and they cannot wait for his calls to get the latest treasure-hunting tips.
Davos 2011 is not about economics because I did not hear much economic discussions in the late-night parties, including the McKinsey party where you could barely move due to the crowd, the Google party where they had strict crowd control but you still could barely move, the YGL parties where the most energetic Davos dance moves could be found and which others always try to crash. In fact, I did not hear much at all at those parties because the music tended to be so loud and lively. Also, when you see David Gergen dancing on the floor next to you, would you rather cheer for David or discuss economics?
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