I'm headed to Davos tomorrow for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, where the discussion is sure to be provocative -- and a bit more forward-looking than in recent years. Since the financial crisis first shook the global economy in 2008, these summits have focused mainly on the meltdown's market impact and its implications for policymakers. As aftershocks ripple across the eurozone, its troubles will remain a high priority topic. There just isn't much new to say about them -- though there will be much speculation on how short-term solutions play out. The forecast is for more muddle-through as Europe's leaders take halting, painful steps toward austerity and closer fiscal union.
But on a more macro level, we'll see plenty of willingness here to change the tune. I wouldn't quite call this the first recovery summit, but we're seeing signs of life in the U.S. economy, solid growth numbers in China, and we've put a cap on the security-driven 9/11 era with the killing of bin Laden, the crippling of al Qaeda, the end of the Iraq War, and a scheduled troop drawdown from Afghanistan.
So if global politics are no longer consumed with responses to 9/11 on the security side and the financial crisis on the economic front, this year's gathering will have room to address broader drivers of international governance and the global balance of power in years to come. Thus the Davos theme: "The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models." I look forward to getting plenty of perspective from my work as moderator for several upcoming discussion panels and to unpacking this idea piece by piece in posts to come.
To kick off, let's unveil the themes sure to be most hotly debated. The growing gap between rich and poor will play a huge role. The issue already stands to provide the U.S. 2012 elections with both text and subtext, and an Occupy Davos movement will soon echo through the summit press coverage. How this divide compares to other sources of global tension -- sectarian divides, nationalistic ones, and the demographics of age and immigration -- will make for charged debate. The future of democracy versus its various alternatives will also take center stage, along with juxtaposition of the relative merits of free market and state capitalist economic models. A discussion of the Arab Spring's impact on the state of democracy -- or perhaps just the stability of states in general -- is sure to surface.
And, yes, Europe's travails will cling to the top of the charts, though the eurozone itself will survive 2012 in one piece. I strongly suspect we'll see positive signs from the meetings here, probably in the form of some announcement of (incremental) support for the periphery and a modest upswing in optimism that the Greeks make it through their next funding deadline on March 20. We can expect a lot more market volatility. We're not headed for a cure, but nor are we headed over a cliff. That alone will give us plenty to discuss.
Then we'll leave Davos as we arrived -- with a new set of urgent questions that defy simple answers.
BTW, I can't forget to thank Newt Gingrich for stirring the political pot with that win in South Carolina. I fully expect shrewd questions about this from befuddled foreign friends. I only hope I can provide some semi-satisfying answers.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?
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