It is that time of the year when the world’s rich and famous get together in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum to discuss and hopefully solve the world’s problems. Yet, as this article in the Politico shows, the discourse on some of the most pressing issues concerning humanity doesn’t come across as particularly original and indeed no more insightful than a casual conversation among friends in a social setting.
“It is not that the observations and arguments are notably dumb, though it is rare to hear something arrestingly smart. The signature of most conversations about current events is how emphatically commonplace they are. Business leaders, scientists, public intellectuals, cabinet ministers and the roster of operatives who accompany them all to Davos tend to be very high news consumers. Many of these people are themselves frequently in the news or have regular access to principals of government and industry. Outsiders, however, should liberate themselves from the illusion that these insiders really know the score. Their views are no more banal than the average person who also follows the news, but they are typically no less so.”
The article attempts to reason this banality among the world’s most powerful and hence presumably more insightful:
“The first is the high achievers who come to Davos became high achievers typically because they were genuinely smarter and far more informed than the average bear on some concrete subject that rewards technical expertise. But many conversations about the news revolve around inherently imponderable subjects: constantly shifting public opinion and best guesses about the outcome of future elections.
On these kind of topics, even smart people — as most CEOs and policy experts and other Davos regulars are — don’t really have a choice but to pop off with opinions that are unmoored to anything stronger than hunches or personal preferences. As a journalist, I get asked all the time about what’s going to happen in some contest and face a choice. I could tell the truth, “Beats the hell out of me.” I could echo the latest conventional wisdom as I understand it. Or I can confidently proclaim some unconventional wisdom. The last approach is most fun but also most risky.
The second way to think about it is that insights or alleged insights into the deeper meaning or future course of current events have been radically democratized over recent generations. Fifty-four years ago, when the World Economic Forum’s genius convener started these gatherings, it was probably true that elites learned things at Davos or meetings of the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderberg Group that most people couldn’t easily learn for themselves. This hold was weakened by cable news and demolished by social media.
What’s more, even the wealthiest and most powerful people at Davos typically come from familiar cultural soil. Like many well-educated, reasonably comfortable professionals, they tend to view politics from a distinctly centrist perspective. In this light, the cultural and ideological eruptions roiling the United States and much of the world look mystifying and irrational. They believe there are sensible, technocratic solutions to most problems and yearn for a politics that transcends partisanship and tribalism. This instinct is as true for the local bank branch manager as it is for the global banking CEO — they talk about current events in the same way.”
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