Panelists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, included Zhu Min of the People's Bank of China, on the big screen.
Davos 2010: In Davos, Bankers Look for Closer Bond With Policy Makers (January 30, 2010)
Protesters outside the Davos forum tried to protect themselves against the Swiss police force's water cannons on Saturday.
Over the first four days of mostly closed-door meetings at the World Economic Forum, bankers, central bankers and politicians reached no consensus on the best way forward to regulate markets or banks. Like many bankers, Mr. Green acknowledged “political initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic,” but was not ready to cede the terrain to politicians. “It is very important,” he said, “that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Members of the financial services industry seemed ruefully aware of how far they had sunk in public regard. Commenting on whether private equity companies would support an Obama administration proposal on bank regulation, David M. Rubenstein, managing director of the buyout firm Carlyle Group, quipped, “Our position is unsure because we’re afraid if we come out in favor, it won’t pass.”
Perhaps the billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros summed up the ambivalence most succinctly. “You want to keep regulation to a minimum,” he said, “because it is worse than markets. But you can’t do without it.”
And so, from President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who urged creation of a new international monetary system and even a new reserve currency to replace the dollar, to angry representatives from trade unions, to the white businessmen in suits who still dominate this snow-kissed gathering, the one certainty seemed to be continued uncertainty.
Many influential participants said that the financial crisis, rescue and search for solutions that the world had experienced in the last three years were without precedent. That complicates the search for solutions — how do we define when we are out of the mess? — and, in the West, increases pressure on politicians like President Obama to ease the widespread pain.
Mr. Obama’s recent blasts at Wall Street, coupled with a State of the Union address focused on Main Street and jobs, provided a backdrop to the discussions here. The only senior administration official in attendance, Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, evoked one reason for Mr. Obama’s priorities before a packed audience on Saturday, noting that, in the United States, one in five men aged 25 to 54 is now jobless. Although the United States economy grew strongly in the last quarter of 2009, persistent unemployment has created a situation he described as “a statistical recovery and a human recession.”
It is “reasonable” to expect that to decline to one in seven or eight as the economy recovers, he said. But it is far from the 95 percent employment of American men that age in the mid-1960s.
Contrast that with the buoyant presentation, in the same discussion, by Zhu Min, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China. “China had a good year,” Mr. Zhu opened, before rattling off statistics that boggle even economists’ minds: for instance, a 200-million ton overcapacity in steel production, roughly equal to the 198 million tons produced in the 27-nation European Union in 2008.
The Chinese delegation this year, the biggest in 40 years of the Davos gathering, was led by Li Keqiang, the vice premier widely tipped to be the next prime minister. Their appearance exuded much more confidence than even two years ago, a reflection of what many participants here said was a clear shift of power east, particularly to China.
The effect of that shift, and whether it will lead to cooperation or confrontation, concerns policy makers in the West, particularly the United States. China suggested that trust might be the answer here, too.
“Between Chinese people and American and Western people, we lack mutual understanding,” said Cheng Siwei, a former Chinese politician and a co-chairman of the International Finance Forum, a Beijing-based think tank. The only way to “keep this relationship stable,” he said, is “to build mutual trust.”
But as power has shifted toward China and South Asia, the Europeans, Americans and Japanese have watched their economies decline or stall sharply. Rebuilding mutual trust will be ever more difficult amid fears that such pain will continue and that the current generation entering the work force is likely to be less prosperous than its parents.
Much of the world is concerned about the shift, and unsure what to expect. “In the transition phase from a superpower-dominated world to a multipolar world you will see a lot of uncertainty and you will see a lot of volatility,” said Josef Ackermann, chairman of Deutsche Bank.
Part of the difficulty, it emerged from several discussions here, is that despite globalization and growing interconnectedness, finding solutions has fallen largely to individual nations, companies and banks.
Banding together in the Group of 20 that has emerged to take the place of the Group of 7 as the body to control the direction of the world economy, politicians and economists are supposed to produce policy suggestions by June, ahead of the Group of 20’s meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in November, its first meeting in Asia.
Whether that group, far from the jobless workers in the United States and Europe, can ease their pain is unclear. But, Mr. Ackermann said, “We all know something has to happen quickly to restore confidence in the system.”
Jack Ewing and Katrin Bennhold contributed reporting.