In the 38 years that business and political leaders have been trekking to the Swiss ski resort of Davos to talk about the world economy, the outlook hasn’t been bleaker or global capitalism more racked with self-doubt.
Forty heads of state — compared with 27 last year — have signed up to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum that begins Tuesday evening with two questions dominating: Just how bad will this global recession get? And what will provide the growth needed to end it?
The International Monetary Fund is recalculating its estimate of global growth and on Wednesday is likely to lower it to less than 1%, similar to what the World Bank estimated last month, according to people familiar with the IMF calculations. The IMF is refining its estimates in light of lower-than-anticipated growth figures last week from China.
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“Why are we surprised all the time, almost weekly” by bad financial news, said Victor Halberstadt, professor of economics at Leiden University in the Netherlands and a veteran of the Davos event. “Do we really understand too little about the economy? I’m afraid the answer may be ‘yes,’ and that is why policy makers are going to Davos.”
Davos could mark an opportunity to seek a new economic model, he and others say. “Everyone is at a loss, this is the start of a period of huge improvisation. There is no longer any best practice around to refer to,” Mr. Halberstadt says.