Tuesday, January 30, 2007

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Davos vs. Herzliya

Gideon Rachman attended two conferences last week, and writes about the resulting conceptual whiplash:

I went to two international conferences last week. The Herzliya security conference took place on the Israeli coast and the World Economic Forum was held in the Swiss mountains. It felt as if they were taking place on different planets....

By the end of the week I was left wondering whether these two worlds – Davos and Herzliya – can continue running in parallel. Are they fated to collide? If so, which will prove the more powerful – conflict or capitalism?

Davos man does not seem to be particularly worried by the business implications of chaos in the Middle East. There were 17 sessions at the forum devoted to climate change – and just one to global political risk. A debate on “globalisation at the crossroads” considered three main threats to the world economy – failed trade talks, financial regulation and global economic imbalances. Nobody mentioned the war.

Perhaps Davos man is right not to worry. Even in Israel, war and globalisation have managed to coexist. The Israeli economy grew at 4.8 per cent last year, in spite of the country’s involvement in a war in Lebanon during the summer. Israel is very much part of the global high-tech economy. There are almost 100 Israeli technology companies listed on New York stock exchanges.

But the Israelis are also acutely aware that conflict threatens their prosperity. At the most basic level, many are genuinely frightened that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it might actually use them on Israel. But there is also a subtler version of the “existential threat” that the development of an Iranian bomb is said to pose to Israel. The Israelis know that their most talented technology workers could get jobs anywhere in the world. They worry that if 20,000 decided to emigrate, rather than live under the shadow of an Iranian bomb, the damage to Israel’s economy would be irreparable. At that point, security really would have trumped globalisation....

It may be a long time before capitalism can ride to the rescue of the most troubled parts of the Middle East. In the meantime, the capitalists will just have to hope that conflict in the Middle East continues to leave them largely unmolested.

Read the whole thing. And then, for fun, check out Rachman's description of his "brainstorm" nightmare at Davos on his blog.

posted by Dan on 01.30.07 at 10:34 PM


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