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Davos Man Doesn't Live In a Closed Word

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Davos has started. And the search is on again for what will be the defining new wisdom to emerge from this year's rash of seminars, lectures, parties and closed meetings in the Swiss mountain town. Last year it was the apparently terminally sick Euro (which has proved a rude survivor) earlier it has been the eclipse of the US and the rise of China (two different years) and before that the re-emergence of the US. The last time that was the soundbite conclusion was 2009 as a newly elected President Obama took office. But don't expect a repeat this year.

FTI Consulting polled business leaders around the world on the eve of this year's meeting and although the new administrations in China and the US are neck and neck in terms of which matters most for global prospects, I suspect Davos's zeitgeist will be somewhere else: for the poll also showed that Davos Man has got his and her confidence back. Business confidence is back to pre-2008 levels and even confidence in international banks has rebounded. Trust is back. The world looks a less threatening place.

That I suspect is one half of this year's Davos party wisdom but it has a jarring second half: among the rest of the world that's not invited to Davos a very different mood prevails. In other FTI research we see that the overwhelming majority still distrust banks for what they have got up to and are in no mood to forgive them. Indeed they hold the whole international business community at fault for the global crash and then walking away from it leaving the ordinary taxpayer and employees with the cost of a decade's long clean up. The World Economic Forum's own very useful annual Risk Report highlights inequality as a leading global risk. And of course increased inequality in many countries from the US to some of the world's poorest nations is the most common form the injuries of the global economic crisis have taken. From America's middle class, to the youth and pensioners of Spain or Greece, let alone to the urban workers in poor countries, many think that once more the costs of bailouts, austerity and adjustment is being born by them.

So while the view from the top of the mountain looks pretty good it looks a lot less happy from the bottom. And contrary to the dismissive view of Davos Man living in his, or her, own closed world of private jets and ostentatious spending they are a pretty astute lot who are quick to pick up the signals when their citizens and customers are p*ssed off. And if they do miss it, there are enough NGOs and social activists at Davos to shout it over the canapés. So expect a schizophrenic Davos. What you think depends which end of the mountain you sit.

Throughout this year's meeting, Mark Malloch-Brown, FTI Consulting Chairman of Europe, Middle East and Africa, will be sharing his Davos Diary, a daily digest of his Davos experience.