Sunday, February 01, 2009

I spent three days looking for someone who doesn't think the world's going to hell:

Armed with a notebook, Blackberry, flip camera, and laptop, I mounted a 72-hour effort to locate an optimistic CEO. A PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey of CEOs, released on the eve of the World Economic Forum, found that only one in five (21 percent) was confident their revenues would rise in the coming year. In theory, some of that 21 percent should have been here.

Yet many CEOs bore the harrowed looks of survivors of the Donner Party. Once they trickled in, many having endured the indignity of flying commercial for the first time in years, they were treated to an avalanche of doomsaying. Alarmists, from hedge-fund manager George Soros to historian Niall Ferguson, spun elaborate tales of catastrophe. Ferguson boldly concluded that the United States was destined for a decade of extremely lame growth.

Economists were universally downbeat, which isn't totally surprising. (They don't call economics the dismal science for nothing.) Those who had successfully predicted the debacle, like Nouriel Roubini, New York University's Dr. Doom, were elevated to prime speaking slots. Last year, the hot topics were sustainability and decoupling—the notion that developed markets could boom even if the United States stalled. This year, failure and depression were the chief subject of discussion.