Jan 25, 2020

A Davos conversation on maximizing happiness, not GDP

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

DAVOS, Switzerland — At the head table Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and the evening's host, was surrounded by dignitaries and leading experts on a controversial science: measuring happiness.

  • Up for debate was whether governments should seek to make their citizens happy, and whether they could satisfactorily measure their success in doing so.

Axios listened intently from a corner table, accompanied by a delightful Italian red:

  • First up was Dan Gilbert, a psychologist from Harvard, who said of course you can trust people to tell you whether they're happy — indeed, the most basic human interactions depend on it.
  • Next came Robert Shiller, a Yale economist and the evening's skeptic. He said happiness oscillates based on temporary circumstances, and joked he'd be happier upon the arrival of desert (pistachio ice cream with mango sorbet).
  • Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, reflected on why his people are so happy: social mobility, environmental conservation, national culture, good governance.
  • Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Polish president, warned as "the only one in this room who was a member of the Communist Party" that happiness as ideology can be dangerous.
  • Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of Oxford noted that several leaders have recently set happiness as their objective —nearly all of them women.

The bottom line: Perhaps it was the wine, but I stepped out into the Alpine air convinced that in Davoses to come, there will be less about GDP and more about happiness.

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How Big Tech used Davos in 2020

Facebook's pop-up location last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

While tech leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, had U.S.-China tensions top of mind, they also came looking to push their perspectives on climate change, antitrust and regulation of artificial intelligence.

Why it matters: Whereas once tech leaders were given a free pass (literally and figuratively) as the young darlings of Davos, they are now established leaders with heightened roles — and sharper scrutiny.

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Deep Dive: World leaders in Davos walk the U.S.-China tightrope

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

DAVOS, Switzerland — The Trump administration is gearing up for a long-term confrontation with China, a rival viewed increasingly as an existential threat, but a week in Davos offers a stark reminder that the world is not prepared to line up behind it.

The big picture: There was a palpable sense of relief among the Davos crowd after the "phase one" trade deal reduced tensions between the U.S. and China.

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Media coverage of Davos portrays more conference rhetoric than reality

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos via Getty Images: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP and Harold Clements/Express

Call it the hypocrisy gap. Davos has always struggled with the difference between the conference's rhetoric and its reality. This year, as climate change and talk of "stakeholder capitalism" increasingly dominate the public agenda, the gap between why delegates go and why they say they go is wider than ever.

Why it matters: Davos, once a quiet Alpine talking shop, has become a global media frenzy. Governments, corporations, and the World Economic Forum itself (slogan: "Committed to Improving the State of the World") increasingly see Davos as an opportunity to send the message that they care deeply about {insert cause here}. But that's not what keeps the plutocrats returning year after year.

Go deeperArrowJan 23, 2020