January 25th, 2011
10:25 AM GMT
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An interesting group of people turns 65 years old this year, from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to Steven Spielberg, Cher and Sylvester Stallone. Add to that list Geoff Woodhouse.

Geoff recently retired as a maths teacher and like many of his “baby boomer” generation, he may have decades in retirement. He told me that his decision to take early retirement, at 64, came quickly and without much preparation. Five months on, he has to figure out what's next.

Yes, decades.

Welcome to the New Reality of retirement life. With men in the west happily (and many healthily) living into their 80s and women pushing into their 90s, the impact on health care, pension systems and the jobs market is profound. The UK government recently estimated that more than seven thousand Britons will hit 110 years old by 2066.


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January 24th, 2011
05:56 PM GMT
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It is easy to take pot-shots at the World Economic Forum in Davos. As most of the developed world groans its way back to growth, there is something a bit obscene about rich, famous and powerful people getting together on a Swiss mountain side to talk about how to make things better.  It has a ring of “let them eat cake” about it.

This year’s jamboree will add fuel to the fire - with a large new Congress Centre entrance, with oodles of lights.

But as I say every year - that ignores what happens here.  I don’t for one moment think that the sometimes pretentiously titled panels are really what this event is about.  (Some are without doubt interesting and stimulate thought and debate, but you don’t need to schlep to Switzerland in winter to do that.)

Rather, Davos is about access, meetings, talking and schmoozing, which is why the most important rooms here are not the big halls where tedious panels will take place, but the bilateral rooms where government ministers and CEOs meet each other.


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January 24th, 2011
01:18 PM GMT
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Out of work? Looking to find a new job? If you worked in construction, manufacturing or administrative services you may not want to even bother updating your resume. There is a good chance the job you lost during this last recession is never coming back. At least that is what some economists say.

Huge structural forces like globalization and technology mean companies can function without you. Sure, manufacturers still need to get products to market, but they are increasingly choosing to build and assemble them in Asia or India where people work for a fraction of the cost of an American.

Big blue-chip companies still need to do payroll and taxes, but they can now have a computer program do it … rather than a human being.

It is a brave new world out there where companies can be more profitable with less workers and employees need to retrain or get left behind …

Or is it?


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March 1st, 2010
10:25 AM GMT
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The size and scale of the protests in Greece were hard to ignore. Athenians filled Constitution Square in the heart of the capital protesting the austerity measures being put forward by the government of George Papandreou. This is his first major test on the ground since taking office last autumn.

It is quite easy to be swept up into the strike action in Greece and the other labor protests we have been witnessing in Europe during this winter of discontent - affecting industries from the airline sector (Lufthansa and British Airways) to the energy sector (French giant Total) - but it would be a mistake to see them as classic disputes over wages.

In Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy protests go right to the heart of what many in the labor movement and broader society see as a birthright - to continue to enjoy benefits that in today's globalized world are disappearing fast.

Taking Greece for example, investors saw the recent strike by Ministry of Finance workers as somewhat ironic since they are the very members of the civil service who are at the forefront of the restructuring plan itself. It is not often discussed, but many government workers enjoy preferential tax rates, can retire at the age of 54 (in some cases earlier) and enjoy 14 months of pay for 12 months worked.

The Papandreou government is trying to reign in some of those policies. But as leader of the socialist movement, Pasok, those that brought him into power were not expecting changes to what they consider sacred covenants of their day-to-day existence.

I had a chance this year in Davos to share a tea with the Greek Prime Minister who seemed extremely determined to get the job done. He conveyed a certain Zen-like calm about what the job entails. The Prime Minister recalled having to defuse a university sit-in during his first week on the job as Education Minister (in his father’s cabinet), then in his early days as Foreign Minister dealing with a huge row with Turkey over Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader who was on Greek soil.

While those were big challenges for a cabinet minister, this scale of top-to-bottom reform is clearly in a different league altogether. In today's crisis, no one is really arguing that there will have to be sacrifice, more how deep the pain will go. The strike is an effort by workers and students to carve a line in the marble so to speak.

As this Greek drama plays out with huge consequences for the country's people and finances, there are many in Frankfurt, Paris and Brussels who are looking back at the brief history of the Euro and what led to this "Southern Med" crisis.

There is a lesson in this effort for the counterparts in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf where development of the single currency is underway. European countries were forced to come together after World War II. Major schisms can provide impetus for change, but it does mean leaders need to build the foundation of the process carefully.

One of the key architects of the European monetary union, former European Commission President Jacques Delors saw the launch of the Euro as a path to deeper political union. With a much bigger vision in mind, those who hurried this process along after the fall of communism and expansion of the European Union from 12 to 27 members overlooked or chose to ignore both the generous entitlements and, worst still, the levels of corruption and tax avoidance that permeate these economies.

In December, Papandreou admitted to other European Union leaders that "systemic corruption" was at the heart of the Greek crisis and said his government intended to take "harsh measures" to root it out.

The Euro has, without contention, created both stability and wealth in Southern Europe. In the past decade citizens have been lulled into believing that a price won't have to be extracted for Europe turning a blind eye to misdeeds. As they take to the streets in protest, they are finding out that the lenient times are drawing to a close.

February 5th, 2010
06:00 PM GMT
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It was one of those moments where I needed to run a reality check of my own as I was preparing for our live coverage from Davos and an interview with Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank.

Diamond appeared on the first panel at this year’s World Economic Forum, ringing alarm bells about the impact of the proposed banking reforms by the Obama administration on his sector and the overall economy.

That message circled the globe quickly, and 24 hours later Diamond came to our live-shot location to give us his analysis after the State of the Union address.

President Obama was preceded on the subject the night before in the Swiss Alpine Resort by his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy - who positioned himself off of the bar charts to the left.

In case you missed the subtleties, this is a high-stakes showdown within the G20. While Sarkozy is flanking the left; Diamond and his core set of commercial bankers are on the right.

I posed a question on the correct solution to this challenge and received the most balanced response from Stanley Fischer, who has spent time in all three camps as Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, as a private banker for Citigroup and now as the Central Bank Governor of Israel.

Fischer believes that some intervention is needed and the line between investment banking and general consumer banking often gets blurred within the world’s largest institutions.

While the world’s wealthiest and most powerful debated the merits of greater regulation, I was watching the conferences on Yemen and Afghanistan from a distance. The debate in Davos: proprietary trading and bonuses. The debate in London: halting the rapid decline of two potential failed states.

Prior to this deep and prolonged economic crisis - made worse by loose lending and trading by Western institutions - the wealthier Gulf states started to invest their surpluses closer to home, with a particular eye on Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco. But vast swaths of the Middle East and North Africa - part of the Muslim community - are being left behind.

In Yemen, 43 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day according to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

“You can understand everyone below the age of 25 is revolutionary,” said Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Yemen’s foreign minister, “He becomes more so when he does not have a chance for a job.”

The London conference on Yemen was convened to halt the country’s rapid decline into a failed state. As a base for an al Qaeda cell and with conflict on the border with Saudi Arabia, the government is fighting what appears to be a losing battle.

Policy makers and business leaders from the West and the East are mindful of the wealth gap in the Muslim world but have been slow to take action. At the London Conference, Yemeni officials say only seven percent of the $5 billion pledged to Yemen five years ago has been delivered.

In total, there are 1.5 billion Muslims, a big potential market, but 39 percent live below the poverty line, according to the World Islamic Economic Forum.

The chairman of the World Islamic Economic Forum, Musa Hitam was in London to address the issue of economic empowerment.

"One and a half billion Muslims to begin with. Wow! Big figure. But that figure in terms of value in terms of value and potential and economic terms is relatively much smaller than a western market say of 200 million," he said.

That is today’s reality. Per capital income in Yemen is roughly $2,500 a year according to the IMF. Next door, in Saudi Arabia it is ten times more. It is a similar story in Sudan, which is also home to vast natural resources.

Successful Muslim economic models, with reform programs well underway certainly exist. Southeast Asia’s largest market Indonesia is a member of the G20 - along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Today Muslim countries represent one fifth of the world’s population but only six percent of global output. It is a figure leaders shy away from discussing, but know all too well needs to be addressed.

February 4th, 2010
12:31 PM GMT
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January 29th, 2010
07:35 PM GMT
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As the great Davos conflab nears its end I can honestly say it’s been a fantastic experience - despite what a group of jaded journalists led me to believe on the train ride from Zurich.

While I've watched some impressive guests including Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Jacob Zuma, it’s the more offbeat aspects of the week that stick most in my mind.

On entering the airport-style security checkpoint on my first day, I witnessed an engineer attempting to fit a set of TV flood lights into the X-ray scanner at the request of a stern-looking policeman. A CNN colleague later told me she was asked to send four freshly-baked pizzas through the same scanner as she returned on a lunch run.

Not really sure what kind of security risk hot chillies provide.

Once inside the fortified congress center I was ushered down to the basement where CNN's "work area" was located. The musty, green-colored room almost had me running back towards the glamorous ski resort I arrived at.

To make matters worse, the local fire brigade was called on my final day here to help stem the tide of waste water from the nearby toilet seeping into our bunker.

But that’s life in the field.

In between filing stories I decided I would also "tweet" during my time here. Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen in the bunker but I quickly became obsessed with what "celebrities" at Davos were tweeting.

It may be no surprise that Twitter's young co-founder was using his own service. But I was still interested to learn what preoccupied Evan Williams during a debate about the future of social media with fellow Silicon Valley bigwigs. Between questions he tweeted: "About to do my Davos panel in jeans and tennies. @unitedairlines says we might see our luggage tomorrow."

I thought the "geek chic" look was intentional.

In any event you’ll be glad to know Evan was reunited with his luggage the following day.

I also learned the glamorous Queen Rania of Jordan was diligently keeping her followers in the loop about her trip. "Scarf: check. Gloves: check. Warmest coat: check. Secret hand warmers: check. I’m ready for the World Economic Forum at Davos," she tweeted shortly after arriving.

Bill Gates was also a prolific tweeter… And so my obsession went on.

I'm not sure exactly how much rethinking, redesigning and rebuilding was done at Davos this year, but I would certainly endorse its value as a spectacle.

January 29th, 2010
02:52 PM GMT
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Davos, Switzerland (CNN) – A great deal can unfold in the span of 24 hours in Davos. That certainly was the case on the issue of banking regulation. The annual meeting of the forum opened with a panel of financiers pulling out their crystal balls for 2010/11. One in particular stood out, Bob Diamond, CEO of Barclays, who takes issue on the effort by the Obama administration to separate out or govern proprietary trading by banks who collect deposits. He says it will stifle innovation and the economic recovery.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy was on the other end of the financial spectrum and sounded like he wants to ban market making forces altogether. Again President Obama made it a central issue of his State of the Union address, right along job creation. The news cycle was rounded out when Diamond came on CNN today sounding almost like a statesman when he noted, “creating an environment conducive to economic growth and job creation is critical.”

See CNN's full Davos coverage

One needs to read between the lines here. These power players are marking their turf. Diamond did not borrow money from G-7 governments to get bailed out during the crisis – he took investments from Middle East sovereign funds in Qatar and Abu Dhabi instead. As a result, he feels freer to speak his mind about what banking might be faced with after the high profile bonuses being paid out in the shadow of the worst downturn in 60 years.

As one high profile banker said to me before we took the stage on a plenary session, don’t forget these ideas have to become law. The banking sector is already marshalling forces against such a move – as the multi-trillion dollar showdown gets underway.

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January 28th, 2010
06:46 PM GMT
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Davos, Switzerland (CNN) – Day two of the World Economic Forum in Davos and the issues being talked about in the hallways are truly global. The number one talking point remains the need for new regulation and the new definition of capitalism. Bankers continue their fight against harsh new regulations – Bob Diamond told CNN, “I think it’s really important that the U.S. tries to integrate as closely as they can with the G-20 initiatives, particularly around capital, around leverage and around liquidity.” While John Mack of Morgan Stanley bemoaned the fact there wasn’t a proper forum for government and banks to come together to sort out a solution.

But also the shift of power towards Asia is high on the agenda. The prospective next Chinese prime minister is here – and I assure you every word he says is analysed, dissected and followed with much interest no doubt by the prime minister and finance minister of Greece. In true Davos fashion I have now been able to hobnob with some pretty big players.

The prime minister of Greece had a moment to chat about the financial crises hitting his country. I interviewed the CEO of Pepsico, Indira Nooyi. Like other great thinkers she is determined that there needs to be a sea change in the way CEOs regard their companies and stakeholders (and in her case, she is also pushing hard for Pepsico to introduce more healthy chips, drinks and snacks.)

Ms. Nooyi did have one caution to offer – she reminded me that some of the issues had been on the Davos agenda over many years. It was time to deal with them and move on. Quite.

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT (or your local time) to watch Richard Quest on ‘Quest Means Business’.

For more information on Davos please visit www.cnn.com/davos

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January 28th, 2010
11:56 AM GMT
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Davos, Switzerland (CNN) – The runners are off… Davos has begun. The agenda is clear: how to do things differently in the future, especially when it comes to the banks.

The discussion has been galvanized by U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposals to split the big Wall Street firms and ban proprietary trading. Stephen Green, chairman of HSBC, told me reform of the banks is needed but cautions against doing it in haste. And he doesn’t like Obama’s proposals for banning prop trading by banks, which he says is unworkable.

There are big thoughts being raised here today. Ben Verwaayen the CEO of telecom company Alcatel-Lucent is promoting cohesive capitalism. He explained that companies need to set policies around a much bigger agenda than earnings per share. "I'm talking about issues... whether that's health, whether that's climate change, whether it has to do with the cohesion of society because of diversity. And companies need to contribute."  This is true Davosian thinking.

Verwaayen knows stating the principle is part of the process at Davos. Tom Glocer, the CEO of Thomson Reuters - a seasoned Davos hand – knows, "Ideas are generated independently. They begin to be socialized. They are essentially repeating what they’ve heard in the corridors here. The idea picks up traction."

In the cold winter of Switzerland there is, as always, hot debate of these issues and these conversations will eventually lead to change.

Tune in to CNN International each evening at 1900 GMT (or your local time) to watch Richard Quest on ‘Quest Means Business’.

For more information on Davos please visit www.cnn.com/davos

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