Slate's Daniel Gross reports from Davos:
By Daniel Gross
Posted Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009, at 12:23 PM ET
Ordinarily, Davos is a Great Men kind of place, as the motto of this year's gathering implies: "Shaping the post-crisis world." The people who show up here—political leaders, scientists, entrepreneurs, musicians, and, above all, businesspeople—have all shown an ability to impose themselves on history. Otherwise, they wouldn't be invited. And yet in the many discussions held here about the recent global financial debacle, the question of human agency is shunted to the side.
At a CNBC event yesterday, groups of 10 to 12 people sat at tables and mooted three questions: Which policy assumption failed? Which regulatory failure proved to be the largest systemic shock? And which market failure proved most damaging? The answers were obvious: poor regulation of the shadow banking system, mispricing of risk, the failure of models. But there was very little talk about the people who helped design and justify the systems, the mispricing, and the models. . . .
The dismissal of human agency is ironic, but also predictable. Just as financial markets in the United States privatize profits and socialize losses, Davos and other conferences like this privatize success (by chalking it up to individuals) and socialize failure (by blaming it on large systemic problems).
The preferred strategy at Davos is to simply ignore failure. By and large, screw-ups don't make the agenda. It's just not that sort of place. If you screw up, you don't get invited, and you don't show up. This explains why I couldn't see a single economist or official associated with the Bush administration on the roster, and why there are very few American bankers at Davos this year.