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2008 Clinton Global Initiative -- Day Two (a.m. wrap)

September 25, 2008

Cgiimage006_3Things are returning to normal here after the remarks this morning by John McCain and Barack Obama. Sen. McCain, who was delivered to the  hotel where the meeting is being held by a small army of Secret Service agents and New York City cops, was earnestly bipartisan, high-minded ("I cannot carry on a campaign as if this dangerous situation had not occurred or that a solution is at hand"), and apologetic ("Seven hundred billion dollars is a staggering and unprecedented figure..."). Sen. Obama, whose remarks by satellite followed the conclusion of the morning plenary, was similarly bipartisan and high-minded. But he also took the opportunity to lay out an agenda -- on global health, climate change, and energy independence -- that had the crowd, Wall Streeters and NGO-types alike, swooning in admiration.

That shouldn't surprise anyone. Many people here belong to that relatively new sub-species of human being known as Davos Man, named after the Swiss Alpine town which hosts the annual World Economic Forum and defined by Wikipedia as "a global elite whose members view themselves as completely international." Bill Clinton is a classic example of the type, and Barack Obama a younger, updated model -- Davos Man 2.0, if you will.

According to Wikipedia, Davos Men "see their identity as a matter of personal choice, not an accident of birth." Samuel Huntington, the political scientist credited with inventing the term, says they are people who "have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite's global operations." As I write this on a laptop in a conference room at the Sheraton (an iconic global brand in its own right), surrounded by reporters and photographers from a dozen nations, all of us hanging on the words of politicians, rehabilitated politicians, and globe-trotting advocates, it strikes me as a fairly accurate description.

All is not well in Davos-land, however. The credit crisis in the U.S. continues to deepen and wreak havoc on both Wall and Main Street. Most ominously, say the people who run and regulate the economy, if it isn't addressed and ameliorated, it could turn into a contagion that plunges the global economy into recession, or worse.

Suddenly, the fact that we are all connected (or soon will be) takes on new meaning. What's the old saying? When you marry a woman, you also marry her family, crazy uncles and all. The same can be said of globalization, and I think that fact partly explains why the tone of this year's annual CGI meeting is subdued, even somber.

But this is a crowd of optimists (individual CGI members wouldn't have paid $20,000 to attend if they weren't), and no one here seems ready to pull the plug on Globalization 3.0 (to borrow Tom Friedman's phrase). Yes, they say, gobalization is partly responsible for the worrisome situation in which we find ourselves -- not just with respect to the economy, but in terms of climate change, disease pandemics, and the existential threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. But it is also our last best chance to avoid disaster.

Let's hope they're right.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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