Are you there, Ian? It's me, Shinzo Abe.
The last night of Davos made for some good stories and some good insights. But nothing quite like this morning. At 6:30am, I get a call. My alarm was set for 7:00 (and I was thinking about pushing it back), so I groggily shrug it off and ignore the call. Then my phone rings again.
Turns out Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is doing a special closed session meeting for about 10 people. He'll be calling in by satellite at 7:15am. The Japanese want me to attend, provided I can make it. I ask for a car and get in the shower.
When I'm dressed and ready to go, it turns out... there are no cars available at immediate notice. Nor at the front desk of my hotel. The meeting is two miles away in the Congress Centre, which would usually make for a lovely morning walk in the snow. Not today. It transforms into a two mile power-jog in the snow, equipped with boots, suit, overcoat, and -- of course -- my fur-ball hat. I usually complain that there's no gym in my hotel, so I can't get in my regular 5k run -- not today. I made it to Abe with five minutes to spare.
Eric Cantor's candor
I attended U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) speech last night. A funny moment: midway through his speech about the potential for government shutdown, someone inadvertently flicks the lights off. I duly yelled "sequester!"... Just couldn't help myself.
Cantor gave a refreshingly solid, bipartisan account of the Washington political dynamic in his actual analysis. This is something that doesn't happen enough -- a strong political player spearheading the effort on one side of an argument fluidly and candidly outlining the other side's position. Despite his allegiances he strayed from the party line talking points, properly laying out both sides to give the bipartisan audience the necessary context. When it comes to this skill, British Foreign Minister William Hague is among the best I've ever personally seen do it. But last night, Cantor was right up there. The crowd of 60 (roughly two-thirds Republicans among the Americans in the room) was accordingly impressed.
A little more on the substance of our speeches. I had started my talk with a theme I've hashed out that I call "the good, the bad and the ugly." It's a reference to the three global trends that matter most in the world today: China rising, the Middle East exploding, and Europe muddling through. Here's the idea: today, China's rise is 'the good." Chinese economic growth has made the region more dynamic and has anchored global growth -- and the global bounce back from the financial crisis. The Middle East exploding is surely "the bad", as we see no resolution to the Arab Spring or deeper consolidation of democracy (or even dictatorships for that matter). Europe's muddling through? Hey, it's not eurozone collapse. But it certainly ain't pretty. It's just ugly.
But how will this develop over the next few years? The Middle East will still be 'the bad,' as it's only getting worse. But the other two will flip: we'll start to see Europe emerge from its crisis in much sounder shape. It will be "the good." Meanwhile, China's rise will become increasingly ugly -- especially for its neighbors and the West -- as its growth leads to regional tensions that will inexorably drag the United States in. So those are the major three trends; if you're interested, check out my blog post on this subject.
As soon as I'd finished, Cantor didn't miss a beat. He jumped up and said he would do the exact same thing for his speech -- a good, bad, and ugly account of Washington budget politics. Cantor's good news: the observation that it will be much easier to define and fix the problems in the United States compared to Europe. The bad? How far apart the two sides are on the issue. And the ugly is the incredibly poor approach from both sides as they choose not to compromise.
Bunting for climate change
Surprise! Derek Jeter was here in Davos; PepsiCo flew him out to talk climate change and raise awareness. Jeter said: "Regardless of how you feel about it, it's something that needs to be addressed because we're seeing more and more natural disasters each year, it seems like. Something has to be causing it."
Despite going unmentioned in the last debate between Obama and Romney, climate change became a central theme of Obama's Second Inaugural Address on Monday. He said: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms."
Here's where I stand on climate change, given the G-Zero state of the world today, where we're witnessing a hemorrhaging of international coordination and the increasing inability to respond to global challenges. Big ticket summits and conferences simply don't work -- there are too many players at the table at starkly different stages of development. This isn't about good and evil, here--it's about logical priorities. If climate change had come to the fore during the West's industrial revolution, would we have been in a place to put growth on hold for the sake of the environment? It would be a far more difficult sell. Climate change is a threat of staggering proportions; countries like China and India recognize that and would love to rectify it. (And China would surely like some cleaner air too). But even more pressing for them is the focus on pulling citizens out of poverty, and scaling up their economies in order to develop into the very kind of society that would prioritize the environment, human rights, and rule of law. The perspective in emerging economies? You had your turn to grow. It's only fair we get ours now.
There have been a lot of publicity stunts to bring attention to climate change. But surely the only thing less effective than global climate summits is having Derek Jeter tackle the issue. As he's speaking, the only pressing question on anyone's mind is the status of that left ankle and whether he'll be ready for Opening Day.
In the States today, we can much more afford to take a stand -- but we can't even get out of our own way on the issue, let alone effectively rally robust international support. It just goes to show how daunting the challenge is. What kind of solution do we need going forward? If global summits don't work, we need to go sub-global. Find like-minded partners and enact piecemeal solutions. The great can't be the enemy of the good. When you're facing a nasty good pitcher, don't swing for the fences; 'small ball' is best.
*Here are the WEF's top ten quotes from the last day of Davos.
John Zhao, CEO of Hony Capital, said: "Reform is not just a Chinese task; it is a global task." In the same vein as the climate change discussion above, I think you could take that thought a step further: 'Reform is a global task...that the Chinese aren't yet ready to help out with.'
"The fiscal cliff is a self-fulfilling prophecy." -Trevor Manuel, Minister of the National Planning Commission of South Africa. Actually, at my company Eurasia Group, our call was just the opposite. We saw the fiscal cliff as "a self-denying prophecy"-- the more it loomed, the more urgent deal-making would become. It wasn't pretty in the least, but they got it done. It's true of the current state of Washington politics in general: they can dodge the most frightening downsides, but they can't provide lofty, blockbuster compromise and legislation, either. The upside and downside are bounded.
That's it from me today; tune in for my Davos wrap-up on Monday.
Ian Bremmer is writing a Davos Diary exclusively for Huffington Post; this was post #5. His final post will offer his takeaways from Davos on 28 January, 2013.