Planet Business

This week: Secular stagnation, security on the slopes and other Davos-related drama

Swiss special police officers atop the roof of the Davos Congress Hotel.   Photograph: Reuters/Ruben Sprich

Swiss special police officers atop the roof of the Davos Congress Hotel. Photograph: Reuters/Ruben Sprich


In numbers: Welcome to Davos -6 Temperature in degrees Celsius in Davos, Switzerland, as the World Economic Forum (WEF) began on Wednesday, setting the scene for plenty of involuntary chattering at the talking shop.

1,560 Height in feet above sea level at which Davos is situated, making it one of the highest-altitude towns in Europe. So, yes, the people who jetted in to the resort this week really are looking down on the rest of us.

18,000 Area in square feet of the natural outdoor ice-rink at Davos, making it the largest in Europe. One bloke speeding in the opposite direction to everyone else remains guaranteed to cause a pile-up.

Image of the week: Slope security In a more benign world, this would be a shot from the forthcoming Bond movie, but instead these are real-life Swiss special police officers atop the roof of the Davos Congress Hotel. Their job is to keep their binoculars trained on the surrounding area, which is mostly snow. More than 1,500 members of the business elite and 40 heads of state or government are attending the spectre that is the World Economic Forum and security forces are on heightened alert after the attacks in Paris - any unauthorised snowmobiles or slaloming terrorists should probably think twice about speeding into their path.

Photograph: Reuters/Ruben Sprich

The lexicon: SecStag “SecStag” is a contraction of “secular stagnation”, a phenomenon described (by Bloomberg) as “an economic nightmare with an ugly name”, and avoiding it is one of this year’s hot topics at Davos. First coined by Harvard economist Alvin Hansen in 1938 to warn of the dangers of “sick recoveries which die in their infancy and depressions which feed on themselves” - the concept has been dragged back into economic parlance by former US treasury secretary Larry Summers and others in recent times. Economists haunted by the fear of secular stagnation say the slow growth that has plagued developed economies might in fact be permanent, that busts won’t turn to booms and that lost jobs won’t be regained. It’s cheery, post-capitalist stuff.

Getting to know: Peter Piot Scientist Peter Piot was part of the team that discovered the Ebola virus in north west Zaire 1976. The Belgian microbiologist is now a vocal critic of the World Health Organisation, which took five months to declare a state of emergency after last year’s outbreak, saying there was “no excuse” for wasting “too much precious time”. This week, he is bringing a new warning to the Davos elite: the Western world is “vulnerable” to epidemics such as Ebola and must invest more in researching vaccines. Public health policies must “transcend politics and borders”, he told the BBC. “I bet everything I have that there will be other outbreaks,” adds the director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Uh-oh.

The list: Davos dispatches With so many television cameras trained on the Swiss resort, it’s a useful place to tell a few people what’s going on in your life/work these days. Here are some of the announcements and soundbites to emerge from the shindig of the super-rich:

1. Earth songs: Al Gore and pop star Pharrell “Happy” Williams were on hand to remind everyone about climate change and promote Live Earth, an awareness-raising series of music concerts.

2. Superjumbos: Emirates president Tim Clark revealed the airline has committed to buying 100 more Airbus A380s as long as it upgrades the jet. Climate change, what climate change?

3. Border issues: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Russia has 9,000 troops on Ukrainian soil and called on Moscow to withdraw them, and their range of heavy weapons.

4. Cheap oil: Total boss Patrick Pouyanne said the French energy company would cut spending on oil production this year thanks to the plunge in prices.

5. World domination update: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told the forum that China had no intention to compete for supremacy with other countries. Hurrah?