The once a year occupation of Davos is underway again, with the mega-rich taking over the Swiss town to talk about the world economy.
Personally, I've found Davos to be a slightly creepy place, for reasons I can't quite pin down.
Strip away the fancy marquees and street branding and there's a sleepy looking ribbon development underneath, with a few tell-tale trappings of Swiss affluence. Then, towards the centre there is a curious wooden sculpture comprising a procession of people walking into a lake carrying umbrellas.
Nonetheless, I can understand why a premium Swiss ski resort in the middle of a country famous for quiet banking and taxation regimes gets selected. Placing the conference 2.5 hours by road or train from a main airport also limits access, although the staff can still get in to run things and helicopter is still available for those that need to get there quickly.
Alongside the rich folk, there's a good smattering of advisors, with some well-known banking and tax specialists in the mix, as well as a few more -er- specialised organisations. They help maintain the 62 folk who apparently equate to half the world's total wealth. Of course, the WEF conference is larger than that, with some 2,500 delegates.
I'm interested to see if there is can be something for everyman at this world event. It would be so easy to run wallpaper presentations that gently summarise without really bringing new enlightenment and to keep the good stuff off stage in the one to ones.
If the real 1% are even present, they'll all have huge run-rates of software licences, confectionery, ball bearings, beer and fashion items to keep themselves in cash. The very top of the wealth list is characterised by these type of people. I can't help thinking of Weeds or Breaking Bad though. That need to have a car wash or a cake shop to help run the funds through.
Further down we start to get the properly 'diversified','investments' and 'hedge funds' people who'd rather not say what the main secret of the success comprises. And of course there's a few 'casinos' in the mix too.
So let's have a peek at today's world and then today's WEF topics:
First, the world.
- Oil supply Now it's down at $27 a barrel, even the middle east must be worrying. The UK economic viability point for its own production is around $60. Norway is slightly less and the USA is slightly more. The middle east can run at about $30. Now Iran is also back in the game, the entire world is running production at around the lowest possible breakpoint and with a massive and growing surplus. Cheap fossil fuel implies burning the planet and runs against the climate change agenda.
- Eve of Destruction How does that song go? Barry McGuire may have sung back in 1965, but this time it's Stephen Hawking warning about nuclear war, global warming and genetically engineered viruses posing threats to humanity, alongside scientific progress that will create “new ways things can go wrong”. Yikes
- Re-bordering: As Brussels scraps asylum laws that the first country a refugee enters is responsible for any claim, it is changing completely the way that border structures operate throughout the whole EU bloc.
- Rich money: The little scheme dreamt up in Euro-land to pump €60bn per month into the Euro, starting in March. That's quantitive easing money lobbed in at the bond end which flows through to the more affluent end of the market - whilst trying to stop the Euro from capsizing. Pass the bubbly.
- Cyber attacks, of course: If ever I pick up a technical journal, the front cover has something about cyber attacks. As we drift further into Internet of Things and clever cars, the predictions are about off-shored nation state engineering of cyber attacks.
- Loony tunes: What do I know, but it all seems to be going very wobbly in America, what with the President on his farewell tour and Trump having a love-fest with that Alaskan tea-party Palin woman. Large chunks of America seem to love all this stuff.
- China broken and fatter: After its share price rises, China is now jittery and struggling - which is knocking through to everyone else. There's also that recently rescinded 'one child' gap creating a kind of population time-bomb as it ascends into and beyond the workplace. There's also a new obesity and diabetes healthcare epidemic, as well as the west working out how many ways to sell sticks (cigarettes) to the Chinese.
- Climate Change: Should be in the list, but somehow the 62 people = 50% wealth or .1% people = 80% wealth signpost away from this topic.
There's more, of course, but that'll do: The World Economic Forum presentations are in a different vein:
- Top technology trends - Buying that gold Rolex just got easier: Yes - a last minute Christmas $20k gift, bought via an iPhone app. The related trends are: The age of everywhere (like IoT)/ data to add context/ on-demand inventory/ true global commerce/ virtual reality shopping
And my personal favourite - "sustainable shopping" - that's "buy/use/sell" to you and me and will probably appear in Ebay's tag line anytime soon.
- Greatest users of mobile eCommerce?Why, the Brits! Then the Germans and in third place the Americans. 28% of all eCommerce in Britain is mobile generated. Shop till you drop?
- Healthcare in the home: Use of sensors and home monitoring, which is already underway. Then it talks about delivering medicines from one room in the home to another by drone.
Ok. I guess the presentations don't really want to give away anything that could seriously make money.
- Gender equality: Using the index of 0 to 1 for parity of representation, women score 0.0 on Politics, 0.6 on economics and close to 1.0 on Education and Healthcare. For the conference, they'd score 0.18, which is still a low representation.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution Billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge. Possibilities multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.
Let's face it, there's a lot of people in the rich list that made it with software. There'll be plenty more with all this stuff. Assuming that the government/commerce/citizen triangle can be figured out.
- I, and a Robot The storyline that workers will have greater employment opportunites if their occupation undergoes some degree of computer automation. Just watch out if you see anyone designing a Cylon or a Replicant.
So if the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the overall theme of the conference, with 1) Automation, 2) China, 3) Stuttering emerging markets and 4) What Britain decides to do in Europe all in the mix, then perhaps we could expect some interesting viewpoints?
More likely it's a choreographed move away from the ongoing themes of bankers gone wild, new war zones, terrorism, migration and climate?
Then again, the folk at the conference can probably work out that there's money to be made from the fourth industrial revolution, and maybe it's better for them to keep all the really good stuff secret.