The good and the great…the world’s biggest humbugs and brightest worthies… gathered in Davos, Switzerland last week. Even Bono was there.
They look at the big picture, of course. And they try to think of ways to make the picture a little brighter. But do you think the world is actually improved by a bunch of people drinking champagne and wondering how they can make things better — by meddling with other peoples’ plans? If so, you do not work here at Markets and Money . Our view is different. In our view, the baker does not bake for reasons of altruism or idealism. He bakes to earn his own bread. And as Adam Smith pointed out more than 200 years ago, it is thanks to his efforts to improve his OWN life that the whole world gets better. Or, as Goethe put it: “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”
Still you can’t blame the policy makers, the movers, the shakers and the late-night party makers for having a good time… as long as they don’t actually do something.
Water was the big subject at this year’s confab. And here, we give the tip of the hat to Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, UN General Secretary. First, he noted, with no show of humour or awareness, that the response so far to the UN’s initiative on water sustainability had been merely “a drop in the bucket.”
Then, he went on to say that he hoped this year’s session at Davos would be as big a success at last year’s, and that “what we did for climate change last year, we want to do for water and development in 2008.”
What did Davos do for climate change last year? How did it change the climate? Did all those rich and famous people, flying all those miles in business and first, in those carbon-consuming jet airplanes…staying in those fancy, well-heated alpine hotels…and feasting on delicacies flown in from all parts of the globe – did they do any good for the world’s climate? We doubt it. But we think Mr. Ban Ki-Moon is right. This year’s Davos conference will be an equal success.
Meanwhile, we note that the idea of capitalism – the phony idea that it produces wealth automatically, that is – is alive and well among the world’s elite.
First, a team of researchers asked the ‘elite’ in 18 countries which institution they trusted. They answer: business. Not government. Not the media. Money has upstaged politics, as we pointed out earlier.
Then, Bill Gates – the world’s foremost entrepreneur and richest capitalist – spoke to the group.
“In markets where profits are not possible, recognition is a proxy; where profits are possible recognition is an added incentive,” he said.
He was proposing something he called “creative capitalism.” How that is different from any other kind of capitalism, we don’t know. In any business, there are different kinds of rewards. Some people like to run art galleries – even at a loss – because they like art. Others want to be in the film industry, because it is glamorous. And who wants to own slum properties and collect rent from drug addicts? Only people who want a high rate of return and don’t care much about prestige or personal safety.
It is discouraging to read accounts of Gates’ speech. The man seems to have spent too much time in front of a computer terminal. He said he wanted to “find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people too.”
Either the world’s number 1 capitalist doesn’t know how much about capitalism. Or he is just another humbugger, like all the rest. He should know that capitalism serves no on in particular. It only serves those who make use of it…those who save…those who invent…those who work and improvise…
It is a moral system, as we mentioned above, serving the thrifty, the quick, the smart… It is indifferent to how rich people are…to their skin color…to the language they speak and to the flag they salute.
Capitalism is always creative…and always destructive too.
Markets and Money