Monday, February 4, 2008

'Davos Conversation' Allows Public to Match Ideas with Policy-Makers

The 'Davos Conversation' is a multimedia effort to bring online public together with major policy-makers, activists and economists, to broaden the scope of debate at the World Economic Forum. The question which was used as a platform for the online forum was "what one thing would make the world a better place?"

Individual citizens, government officials, economists and thinkers, recorded their ideas on video and blogged their answers, in an effort to ensure that there is contact between those thinking about the future of an increasingly integrated world's economic structure and those who have no direct say but will be affected.

Many take issue with the unfettered nature of "free market" capitalism, which some critics say is less about open markets and more a euphemism for the "laissez faire" plunder that shook the US economy and political system in the late 19th century, leading eventually to major anti-trust legislation.

Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft, put forth at the Forum itself his vision for a more humanitarian kind of capitalism, which not only acts responsibly, but envisions narrower wealth divides and increased prosperity among the poor as clear benefits for long-term financial gain.

Efforts to push for sustainable development as an absolute standard in international economic policy fed into debates on the nature of environmental resource depletion, agriculture, the hunger of developing nations for fuel and industry, and the responsibility of those at the top of one market for those at the bottom of another, socio-economically speaking.

Climate change was a prime subject, with presentations, videos, and some of the most credible debate yet on the policy side, as world leaders struggle to find a way to imagine tying down highly profitable but unsustainable industries in an effort to find a more responsible way forward.

Fmr. US pres. Bill Clinton espoused the theory of one British economist, who has called for the need for wealthy nations to voluntarily enter into an economic slowdown, if that's what's needed to arrange and implement a rapid transition away from the carbon-intensive 18th-century model that still underlies much industrial production, though he did not say it was an absolute necessity.

Clinton's vision, like that of many other attendees and observers, leans toward the idea that the US and other wealthy industrialized nations, are plodding along with ill-advised caution, when they could be enjoying a major innovation and job-creation boom, as whole economies transition to renewable energy systems.

Joseph Stiglitz warned that deregulation (again, a euphemism for "laissez faire") has not worked as many dreamed it would. With "barriers" to investment removed, money may flow into certain markets, but without regulatory authority to ensure fair play, that money does not necessarily benefit the market as a whole.

What now appears to be a global crisis in credit overwhelmingly affected the talks. Mass default on loans given in the US to people who did not have the capital to pay them back, with "adjustable" (read "rapidly escalating") interest rates that make them even harder to pay back, has dampened the lending power of banks across the world.

Central banks, major financial institutions, state pension systems, and high-value stocks, have all suffered as money available for lending and spending seems to dry up. The US government is planning to inject as much as $150 billion into its citizens pockets, in an effort to spur a positive economic reaction, though no major market has reacted exceedingly well to the news.

What one thing will make the world a better place? Communication, dialogue, understanding, efforts to collaborate and to seek mutually beneficial solutions. The Davos Conversation is an encouraging experiment, because the policy-makers who respond to what average people are worried about gain credibility, and that helps make for more responsible, more effective economic policy, and a brighter future for those who need such improvements.


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