|This year’s theme at Davos is ‘shaping up the post-crisis world’ [EPA]|
The world’s bankers, meeting at the 39th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, are continuing to enjoy their merry money-go-round of million dollar bonuses even as their customers suffer.
Millions of people are losing their jobs around the world; many are at risk of losing their homes while banks are continuing to refuse to lend money even to thriving businesses.
Nevertheless, the throngs of world bankers and financiers celebrated their first night at Davos with champagne receptions at the $800-a-night Belvedere Hotel.
I went to watch the fat cats purring over the lobster cappuccino and the fois gras nibbles.
‘Crisis, what crisis?’
The attitude seemed to be that this was a great opportunity for bankers to put on their serious faces and talk about solutions while eating and drinking at receptions and dinners taking place all along Davos High Street.
The bankers and world money-men here all blame the politicians; the politicians blame the financiers. It’s a good game to play when you have an index-linked pension and the last bonus paid off the mortgage.
If their customers could see them the frustration would be tangible and, I suspect, often violent.
But now the bankers have new masters and an announcement made in Davos at the World Economic Forum that some of them are no longer in the driving seat would have raised cheers from Africa to the Middle East.
That is because Citigroup has been forced to scrap the purchase of a $50m executive jet now that the bank is reliant on public support.
Even in the middle of financial meltdown, Citigroup was still planning to go-ahead with the purchase, but Tim Geithner, the new US treasury secretary, made them back down.
It speaks volumes for the sensitivity of Wall Street that they could not see why the public might disagree with executives still using private jets while the world goes bankrupt.
Post crisis world
The theme at Davos this year is “shaping the post-crisis world”. It is ambitious to say the least.
Who knows how long it will take to experience a post-crisis world?
“Climate change, food and water security are big issues. But the Forum is really paying lip-service to the environmentalists because this conference is all about the money. Nothing else really counts here.”
Climate change, food and water security are the other big issues.
But the Forum is really paying lip-service to the environmentalists by including those topics because this conference is all about money.
Nothing else really counts here.
Even the carnage in Gaza is not rating any real serious top-level discussion.
Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, is staying away as is Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister. They have the real world to talk about, not just academic hot air.
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin is here. At least he is used to cold climates. But perhaps he is hoping for a warmer reception from Europeans trying to persuade him to keep the energy taps on.
International corporate bosses arrived through the day dressed casually because that is the style in Davos.
All are accompanied by their pretty young “gate-keepers” whose job it is to stop anybody talking to their bosses and who must get them to their lunch appointments on time.
Many have their skiing gear too. My first guest was Lord Levene of Portsoken. He told me he had enjoyed three brilliant days on the pistes around Davos and Klosters before his first meetings. Lucky man.
Chief executive officers (CEOs) from all corners of the globe are among the 2,500 participants arriving here.
One of them, Dell CEO Michael Dell, has been laying off people – but he has still found the money to cross the world to come to chat and network and, of course, the cost is probably tax deductible.
Tell that to the man who has a family to support and no income to do so.
Last night as I was walking through the snow, still falling, as it had all day, I met an American woman who stopped to talk.
“You must come to my husband’s forum tomorrow” she said, “it’s all about possibility.”
He’s a conductor, by the way.”