After Davos, going ‘long’ on optimism in an anxious world

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — A hedge fund investor told me she attends the World Economic Forum every year “so I know what’s going on.” In a world awash with geopolitical and economic pessimism, the prevailing mood at Davos this year, his argument is that it might be time to go “long” on optimism.

One can quibble with its premise that Davos is more a place of conventional wisdom than investment solutions. As the primary global convener of global and business elites for much of the last half century, the WEF has often been ahead in identifying trends, including the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and in generating positive change, such as CEOs’ increased emphasis on social responsibility. .

That said, there is no doubt that the dominant theme this year was a collective gloom without ready-made solutions. One of Europe’s deadliest conflicts since World War II continues unresolved; the global economy is heading into recession with slowing growth and rising inflation; and COVID with all its variants persists into its third year, with particular hammering from China and associated supply chains.

Yet there was also another narrative on display at Davos.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has shaken the collective West from its slumber. Europe has responded with a more collective goal, and its taxpayers are funding weapons for a Ukraine fighting for shared freedoms. Even Davos’ new elite, the crypto mob, are exploring ways to deploy aid more effectively and quickly to Ukraine, even as they lick their wounds from the billions in losses from the crypto Terra scandal.

The fact that Davos for the first time removed Russians from its guest list underlined that there are certain crimes that the global community must stand against.

“In Davos, our solidarity is above all with the people who suffer from the atrocities of this war,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the Forum. The WEF has called for a “Marshall Plan” for rebuilding Ukraine, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Davos crowd via video that he should use seized Russian assets to help accomplish that task.

Not present was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who used the Davos stage to pose as a champion for a better world, most recently on January 17 when he spoke in a virtual session of the WEF.

“We must abandon the Cold War mentality and seek peaceful coexistence and win-win outcomes,” he said, just days before signing a joint statement with Putin agreeing to a “boundless” relationship. That, in turn, was just over a month before Putin launched his war.

One wonders if Xi ever tried to convince Putin of what he told his Davos audience in January: “History has proven time and time again that confrontation does not solve problems, it only brings catastrophic consequences”.

The most repeated story of the week was that of how Ukrainian business leader and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk transformed the perennial “Russia House” into the “Russian War Crimes House”.

Prominently located on the main street of the ski resort, Russian business and government leaders have held meetings here and drank shots of vodka here in previous years. This year, its walls featured photographs and a large screen showing Putin’s atrocities.

“Russia has come for years here to Davos to present itself the way it thought it should show itself to the world,” exhibit curator Bjorn Geldhof told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro. “We represent war crimes that Russia is committing in Ukraine, but war crimes that were also committed in Chechnya, that were committed in Syria – so what we are showing is the reality of Russia which most people do not speak.”

For all of these reasons and more, I’m going “short” on pessimism and long on “optimism” as I return to Washington, DC, this weekend. I act less out of conviction of a positive outcome than out of the costs to all of us if we do not take advantage of this moment for a common cause.

I bet the hope and heroism shown by Ukrainians will outweigh the complacency that has weakened global democracies for much of the past three decades. I bet the will to help the Ukrainians win will expand and survive the signs of fatigue as Russia advances in eastern Ukraine.

As Delaware Senator Christopher Coons told The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor in Davos: “I think it’s pretty obvious that the Russian plan is to grind it all down…and rely on the West to separate somehow and frankly to lose interest and be distracted by high energy costs and our own elections.”

I also hope, unlike previous experience, that in the aftermath of this week’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which left 21 people dead, the United States can address its domestic ills while rallying the world to help Ukraine defeat Putin. Hope is drawn from the new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that Washington’s toxic partisanship is not beyond repair.

One can only see hope in the Swedish and Finnish NATO bids, ending 200 years of Swedish neutrality history, not to threaten Putin but rather to better unify the transatlantic community against a generational threat. I bet NATO can overcome Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objections.

President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia this week was also encouraging, in that he introduced a new economic plan to advance relations with his partners and abandoned the outdated concept of “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan, not to war but to prevent it.

It was Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s speech at George Washington University on Thursday that captured the connection between Putin’s war and the China challenge.

“Beijing’s defense of President Putin’s war to erase Ukraine’s sovereignty and secure its sphere of influence in Europe should ring alarm bells for all of us who inhabit the Indo-Pacific region,” he said. said, later adding, “We cannot rely on Beijing to change its course. We will therefore shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision of an open and inclusive international system.

It is a result in which it is worth investing.

Frederick Kempe is the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council.

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