Why I’m At Davos


Dateline Davos — The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting is as good a place as any to restart blogging, which I had abandoned four years ago when I left the Wall Street Journal  and my "Thinking Global" column to become president and  CEO of the Atlantic Council.

Davos tries to capture the Zeitgeist each year with the title of its annual meeting. This one is: "Shared Norms for the New Reality." Let me translate that into how I understand the theme: "How are we going to avoid disaster and find opportunities as the world passes through a dizzying pace of change that is perhaps the most rapid in history?"

The economic and political power shift from West to East — and now also to other emerging markets further south— is the most dramatic since the 18th Century.  We haven’t even begun to absorb what this might mean to the institutions and values — individual rights, rule of law, free markets — we did so much to implant following World War II. Will rising powers replace or alter that world with practices, parallel institutions and a new pattern of relations that will change the way we live and operate?  Will the world evolve in the next decade into something we find familiar and reassuring, perhaps even further spreading global development and prosperity? Or are we entering an era of greater disorder, violent conflict (most likely over resources) and a host of economic disputes that could erupt into geoeconomic showdowns (some would say one is already occurring between the U.S. and China)?

Instead of the G-20- or G-7, Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group talks of "G-Zero" — everyone on his own in a new era not of globalization but of global competition.

For the business and political leaders who are making their way here in limos, helicopters, trains and specially provided buses, the "new realities" are everywhere: the digital economy (and its Wikileaks and Stuxnet virus), global financial instability and imbalances, and the breath-taking rise of new competitors among state capitalist societies. We at the Atlantic Council contributed to the National Intelligence Council’s impressive, quadrennial swipe at sorting out the future for a newly elected President Obama. Entitled, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,  it provided the script for an "Age of Uncertainty."

The reason so many of my ilk will traipse through the snow of this Alpine village is we’re trying to come to terms with the historic inflection point we face. At such times, it’s a luxury to exchange views with so many of the world’s top minds. It’s also sobering that even the most gifted of them are coming here as much to learn as to talk. Everyone’s hoping to unravel the mystery of what sort of world will emerge from this combustible stew.

Fred Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council.

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