Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Running out of Patience with the Rich and Mighty

In the script that Philip Barry wrote for The Philadelphia Story, it is "a Spanish peasant's proverb:"

With the Rich and Mighty always a little Patience.

This may be the most appropriate epigraph for the preview of this year's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, which Tim Weber wrote for the BBC NEWS Web site. Still, given the general proclivity of the Davos crowd to drown themselves in Kool-Aid (mostly from Silicon Valley) in preference to conducting serious discussion over matters of economic health, including the allocation of financial assistance to those most in need of it, it is easy to understand that the patience of some might be wearing a bit thin. One of those who has lost such patience appears to be the new President of the United States. Considering the extent to which this year's Inaugural ceremonies were a "people's party" (even if the elites had their own events), we should be able to appreciate Barack Obama taking a dim view of anyone in his Administration going off to party with this particularly rich-and-mighty gathering in a time of economic crisis. According to Weber, Obama has translated these sentiments into nuts-and-bolts action:

More importantly, President Obama has ordered several key US officials to stay at home and tackle economic and political flashpoints.

Top economic adviser and Davos regular Lawrence Summers will stay in Washington. Tim Geithner is still awaiting his confirmation as new treasury secretary. US Fed boss Ben Bernanke will give Davos a miss.

Even National Security Adviser James L Jones has been told to stay at home.

As a result, the voice of the US government will be somewhat muted in Davos, and participants will sorely miss the input of heavy hitters like Mr Summers and Mr Geithner.

One wonders if there was a bit of irony in that last sentence. What sort of input would the Davos crowd have been expecting from these particular "heavy hitters." Was Summers scheduled to discuss the current state of equal opportunity in the workplace? Since "innovation" was such a strong ingredient in last year's Davos Kool-Aid, was Geithner planning to lecture on software innovations in tax preparation? Whether or not Weber was trying to be funny, the basic message was an important one: The children have to finish all their vegetables before they are allowed to run off for a dessert of chocolate fondue in Davos.

Obama is far from the only one with little patience for the World Economic Forum right now. One cannot imagine that the delegates will get much sympathy from those who cannot pull in a living wage. While their voices seldom carry to Alpine heights, there are still some trade unions left to speak up for them. Weber provided one example in his preview:

Philip Jennings, general secretary of global trade union UNI, said "we would not give a bonus to a factory worker who destroys the production line or a programmer who introduces a bug into software, yet all these bankers are being rewarded for watching while the industry ran headlong into a meltdown".

One might add to Jennings' list the manufacturer who continues to use his production line to grind out a product no one particularly wants to buy. That would provide us with a lens through which we could appreciate how much of our own bailout money has gone to businesses (whether in the financial or automotive sector) that have been consistently poorly managed and show no signs of either managerial or operational change. None of this is likely to introduce that oft-neglected sense of reality into the prevailing conversations that will begin in Davos tomorrow; still, it would be nice to find a counterexample to the words of the poet Adam Lindsay Gordon ("But absent friends are soon forgot"), when those in Davos give a bit of thought as to why their "friends" are absent this year.

1 comment:

Complex Event Processing said...

Is there at least some consensus as to whether the Kool-Aid is supplied by Jim Jones or Ken Kesey?