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With all the hoopla surrounding Tuesday’s State of the Union speech and the on-going Republican
Clown Car primaries and caucuses, you may have missed that the annual World Economic Forum meeting is going on right now in Davos, Switzerland.
First up, we have the protestors, from the NY Times The Lede blog:
In preparation for the economic summit of world leaders, which begins on Wednesday in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland — where daytime temperatures have hovered around 23 degrees Fahrenheit and dipped to around 10 degrees at night with a dusting of snow — protesters are carving out igloos from the packed powder.
Meanwhile, our intrepid All-American big banksters are making an appearance:
Pandit, 55, is one of six co-chairs of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort this week, the first from a U.S. bank since JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon in 2008. Pandit leads a delegation that includes top officials of five of the six biggest banks, including Dimon and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan.
U.S. bankers come to this year’s meeting at a relative advantage to European rivals even as all are struggling with declining revenue, low stock prices and new regulations. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Financials Index dropped 14 percent in the past year, half as much as the 46-company Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index. (BEBANKS) European lenders are facing higher borrowing costs and capital shortages as the future of the region’s single currency comes under threat.
Surprisingly, a few of the billionaires at Davos seem to have a clue:
Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk wants to talk about income inequality. So does Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien and Indian billionaire Vikas Oberoi.
The three are among a contingent of at least 70 billionaires who are joining more than 2,500 business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week, according to a list of attendees and promotional materials obtained by Bloomberg News. A half-dozen of the richest participants, interviewed in advance of the conference, say economic disparity needs to be addressed.
But others, not-so-much:
Some billionaires aren’t interested in talking about income inequality or the Occupy movement at Davos.
“It’s all for the television cameras,” Henry Ross Perot Jr., 53, chairman of Hillwood Development Corp., his family’s real estate development firm, said in a phone interview from his office in Dallas.
Tariko, 49, echoed Perot’s views about Occupy protesters.
Tariko said he’d rather talk about how political instability is undermining the global economy. That would suit Adi Godrej, chairman of Godrej Group, a Mumbai-based conglomerate with interests ranging from chemicals to real estate. He said delegates should focus on policy discussions aimed at fixing the economy, especially in Asia.
Uh, earth to billionaires Perot and Tariko, and Godrej – “political instability” is a symptom, global income inequality is a root cause. From the New York Times DealBook:
In the past, the conventional wisdom among those attending the World Economic Forum — at least among the corporate executives who pay their way, rather than the officials from government, academia and nonprofit groups who are invited — was that a wide level of inequality was an acceptable price of progress. Economic envy might even be desirable, the thinking went, if it fueled the desire that drives entrepreneurship and innovation. A rising tide of economic growth would then lift all the boats: the supertankers of the rich, to be sure, but also the dinghies of the poor.
According to a report published last December by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the association of free market democracies, the share of after-tax household income that went to the top 1 percent of earners in the United States more than doubled in less than three decades, to 17 percent in 2007 from 8 percent in 1979.
Across the 34 countries that make up the organization’s membership, the average income of the richest 10 percent of the population is nine times that of the poorest 10 percent. Even in countries like Denmark, Germany and Sweden, which have traditionally been more egalitarian than the United States or Britain, this ratio has risen to six to one now from five to one in the 1980s.
However, in case you are worried that the earth has tilted off its axis, there’s this from Bloomberg:
Europe’s rich and famous faced tough decisions as they assembled at a chic Swiss ski resort this weekend: whether to drink Taittinger or whisky-infused hot chocolate, and which piglet to back in the afternoon race.
This wasn’t Davos, where the World Economic Forum will urge presidents and bankers to “rethink capitalism” this week. Neighboring Klosters, a resort favored by the British royal family, held its eighth annual snow polo tournament.
While young Swiss socialists protest against the power of political elites in igloos outside Davos, Duran Duran sang “A View to a Kill” to several thousand polo enthusiasts reveling in a bar and nightclub made out of shipping containers and snow. The four-day event, sponsored by menswear company Hackett Ltd. and Swiss watchmaker Parmigiani Fleurier SA, is a chance to forget the global turmoil, according to founder Daniel Waechter, who runs a family business selling luxury lavatories.
Global business CEOs also want in on the act of course:
The chief executive officers of some of Europe’s richest companies, gathering at this week’s World Economic Forum amid a flood of negative economic forecasts, have a message for doubters: don’t count us out.
And some attendees from last year, such as US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are not there, Geithner at least was on the important task of visiting Charlotte, NC to assure the local banksters and Chamber of Commerce that honest, it will all be OK for them.
And because I can: