By Fareed Zakaria
Every year at Davos, people like me try to get a sense of the mood of the place, take the temperature of people in this frosty mountain resort.
Obviously, I will give you a highly impressionistic and personal picture, but it’s one I find useful since Davos does bring together leaders in government, business, media – even the NGO community – from all corners of the world. It is genuinely global in a way that few conferences are.
So what is the mood? Well, there is a sense of calm, a relief that many storms that seemed like they might be overwhelming, like the euro crisis, have been weathered. People from America are optimistic, those from emerging markets more so.
But, everywhere, there’s a sense of caution. In PWC’s annual global CEO survey, released this past week, 52 percent saw no change from the current tepid economic environment, 28 percent saw decline and 18 percent said things will get better. It is still an improvement from last year, when 48 percent predicted a decline. The last few years of recovery followed by slowdowns, of political crisis, of new terror attacks from North Africa have made people wary of excessive optimism.
Things are stable, crises have been contained, there’s some growth on the horizon, but no one’s ready to declare that we’ve turned any corners. There are no bulls in Davos this year, no countries taking center stage.
One symbol of the mood, the big splashy parties that companies like Google used to throw, have been quietly discontinued. Not that Google couldn't afford it, by the way – they just had their first year with $50 billion in revenues.
Underlying this caution, I believe, is a sense that the growth that people had gotten used to, the economic growth of the past that countries and companies had hoped for the in the future, just doesn’t seem likely.
The IMF released a new report last week with growth numbers that are low – lower than they had projected only a few months ago. The world is coming to grips with the fact that the global financial crisis might have ushered in not a few years, but a decade of slow growth – and we’re not quite halfway through it.