Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s walking out of a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres was an unusual moment for the normally staid Davos forum.
Freelance journalist Thomas Crampton has spent the last five days covering the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a gathering of government and business leaders from around the world.
Crampton, formerly a correspondent for “The New York Times” and “International Herald Tribune,” tells RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz that this year’s gathering, unlike previous ones, left him with feelings of “extreme depression.”
He says that’s because of wariness among Davos delegates about the global financial system as well as the failure of political leaders to move forward on critical issues like the conflict in the Middle East.
Beware George Soros
RFE/RL: One of the interesting interviews that you posted to your video blog page from Davos was with the billionaire financier George Soros. Could you explain what you learned from that interview?
Crampton: I managed to meet up with George Soros and he spent an awful lot of time explaining how his theory of reflexivity and his theories about financial markets led him to believe that the world was heading to this very, very difficult zone. He felt it long before the actual crisis hit. And he kept hammering about “my theory, my theory, my theory.”
So my question to him was, “Look, if your theory is so great, did you make any money?” This is, after all, the guy who broke the Bank of England. He has a tremendous reputation as a speculator who has been successful in the past.
And, indeed, he said, “Yes. I did do well by the crisis.” And when I pressed him further about how well he did, he said, “I made a fair return.” I found this interesting — seeing that he was following through with actions on his theory and how that he had come to that decision.
What was striking about it, looking ahead, was [Soros’s] pessimism of where we were and how we were going forward. He said that we cannot keep using these standard remedies to try to get out of this financial crisis. And he spoke about using what, in the West, would be considered radical moves to the financial system that are employed in China — by banks reducing their reserve ratios and things that regulators do not normally dare do. Soros’s point was: “Look, this is not a normal time. We are going to need to do these radical moves.”
To save you the trouble of traveling up to Davos for the week, Matthew Bishop, chief US business editor at The Economist and author of Philanthrocapitalism has summarized this year’s World Economic Forum.