Davos Notes: Contrition, Paralysis, and the Embrace of Faith and Philanthropy Take Hold

Day Two in Davos and some dominant themes are taking hold: contrition, paralysis, and the embrace of faith and philanthropy.

Yesterday, I wrote about the aura of contrition surrounding the financial types here, wafting off them like cheap cologne on a disco Lothario.

Today, at an off-the-record gathering of international editors and reporters, the contrition had spread to financial journalists. There was the sense that many had missed the boat, failing to ask the tough questions -- and, even when they did, failing to stay on the story until it broke through the static.

That sense dominated discussions even after the session had ended. The mainstream media's ADD -- the desire to always look for the new hot story, instead of digging deeper into a complex one -- was deemed partly responsible for the failure.

And since there were those who got it right -- including Nouriel Roubini (who was there) and financial analyst Steve Eisman (who wasn't) -- there was the feeling that many more in the media could have gotten to the truth before it was too late. And if they had, who knows what could have happened?

The widespread contrition permeating Davos is matched by an unnerving feeling of paralysis. The people here -- and we are talking about some of the most influential people on the planet -- seem confused, at a loss about how to attack the financial crisis. No one seems to think that the steps being taken are sufficient. It's as if we are watching things unravel -- how many times, for example, are we gong to hear that layoffs have exceeded expectations? -- but are powerless to stop the unraveling.

If bankers and politicians were stocks, the people here would be shorting them (although there is definitely still a "buy" on Barack Obama, as the warm reception for Valerie Jarrett, who spoke here on his behalf, shows). But attendees would be gobbling up shares in philanthropy and faith. At today's conversation about how new catalysts -- such as the innovative use of technology and social media -- can be used to stimulate new forms of interfaith dialogue, religious leaders of all persuasions, including Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in the United Kingdom, and Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia, talked about how they are seeing a surge in people turning to faith. It was interesting to watch as our moderator, Jonathan Zittrain, the Harvard law professor who wrote The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, surfed MySpace and Facebook, pointing out on a big screen group after group dedicated to faith and interfaith dialogue.

The embrace of philanthropy has also infused much of the conversation at Davos. Like yesterday's panel on "Philanthrocapitalism," today's lunch discussion, "From Philanthrocapitalism to Philanthrocrisis," attracted an overflow crowd. Of course, that may have had something to do with the makeup of the panel: Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Nobel Prize winning microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus, and Jet Li. Not a bad little group to have lunch with.

I, unfortunately, had to leave before the end of the philanthropy discussion to take part in the interfaith discussion (that's my problem, whenever I have to choose between this or that, I always choose this and that). But before I left, Blair, who has been working through his Tony Blair Faith Foundation to help eradicate the million deaths a year resulting from malaria, spoke about philanthropy filling, with innovation and vitality, the gap "between state action and individuals acting on their own."

Earlier in the day, I had made it to CNBC's mountaintop studio to do a segment on "Squawk Box." While I was in the green room (which, incidentally, has some of the best food in Davos), I was chatting with Bill Brodsky, CEO of the Chicago Board Options Exchange, and his lovely wife. "We did well," he told me, explaining how exchanges had escaped the fate of the banking industry. "There are real regulations we abide by. Regulatory consistency and coordination have made all the difference." A word to the wise for all those unregulated-markets dinosaurs still roaming Davos and the rest of the Earth.

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