Here we go again.  The High Streets are full of bargain-hungry shoppers, the Christmas decorations are back in their boxes, New Year’s resolutions are still just about holding, and a certain ski resort in Switzerland is readying itself for an influx of global economic power-brokers.  The World Economic Forum is about to descend, once again, on Davos.

...It's the US Congress

The Eurozone’s enduring sovereign debt crisis has dominated Davos for the past few years, reaching fever pitch as it lurched from one potential calamity to another. The currency’s very survival has been the hot topic in this freezing Swiss town of late.

As Greece looked to be heading for the exit door, and some delegates wondered if it was all a big German conspiracy to control Europe, eyes turned to China as the global economy’s potential saviour.

The debate became ever more extreme and nonsensical, going round in circles until there was nothing more to add beyond simply saying, “what a mess.”

This year’s bête noir is an easy one to predict: the parlous state of the budgetary process and political machinations in the United States will, almost inevitably, dominate proceedings.

America avoided the abyss beyond the fiscal cliff in spite of Congress rather than thanks to it, but any one of the deadlines created by the last minute deal could unsettle global markets this year.

To begin with, February will see the postponed US$100 billion budget cuts right back at the top of the agenda. At exactly the same time, the US Treasury’s ability to juggle the monetary balls under the debt ceiling will be curtailed.

The feat of financial chicanery that the Treasury’s “debt suspension period” represents is truly extraordinary. Frankly, if you or I were to attempt it with our credit cards we would be locked up.

But that is not the only fiscal contortion the U.S. is currently enduring: the expiration of yet another resolution will see Congress unable to spend money, potentially plunging this giant economy into its biggest crisis yet.

The upshot of all this is that America is gearing up for another internal scrap that could mean cutbacks, a default, or even a complete economic shutdown.

Is all this talk a little hysterical? Like so much of the debate around the economy’s woes, the answer is probably a ‘yes’. In the cold light of day few really believe that the U.S. will not avoid such a fate. That said, you can bet that they will take us right to the edge first – a fact that will be preoccupying many at Davos next week.

Speculation will focus on the dysfunctional political process that seems to have hamstrung America so completely. Quite rightly, many will be asking if it is broken beyond repair. Does the crisis on the American side of the Atlantic actually present a greater threat than the sovereign debt crisis on the European side? Which coast are the global economy’s hopes more likely to be dashed upon? It is hard to tell.

Every year Davos picks a banner topic under which the conference is supposed to take shape.  In 2013 it is ‘Resilient Dynamism’.  I have absolutely no idea what this means. WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, rather eloquently, calls this kind of thing “Davosian language.” What that basically means is that you can interpret it pretty much any way you wish.

If all this sounds a little cynical, I don’t mean it to. Well, not completely anyway. Hearing some of the world’s most finely tuned minds grapple with these concepts is a privilege and something I always enjoy. Davos will be heaving with the global economy’s rock stars, and the panels, speeches and meetings taking place here can be fascinating.

What you cannot expect to come from Davos are actual decisions. Those just don’t get made. What will emerge, however, is a picture of exactly where the political and economic pitfalls are located, and ideas as to how we might avoid them. Davos allows us to take stock and to reset. Everyone will know where the major players stand, and where alliances might be made. 

Those alliances will be crucial to the year ahead of us, not least the ones that might be forged, against the odds and expectations, on Capitol Hill.

Richard Quest is a CNN International Business Correspondent and Presenter based in London, host of the one-hour program “Quest Means Business” airing on CNN from Tuesdays to Saturdays at 6am and 2pm AEDT. For program highlights and more, go here

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEDT.

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    • Tubesteak says:

      07:31am | 16/01/13

      The elephant in the room is the onerous welfare states these nations are carrying. Get back to self-sufficiency whilst government pays for infrastructure, health and education and you’ll be able to start to deal with the problem.

    • nihonin says:

      08:35am | 16/01/13

      But if you cut welfare the idiots (or are they the smart ones) in the ‘village’ will starve.  By all means give them support and it is only for a limited time, but it has to come with stringent guidelines.  Also dump all middle class welfare, if you work you should be able to provide for the lifestyle you want through your efforts.

    • Ms. Take says:

      08:46am | 16/01/13

      There are two elephants in the room.
      The rich don’t pay their share and the big financial players are running amok causing things like the GFC and leaving the mess for governments to clean up.

    • AAAdam says:

      09:21am | 16/01/13

      I’d go further and say government only pays for defence and some infrastructure (i.e. basics like water, sewerage, roads and rail). Health and education can provided by the private marketplace these days. Not to mention people could afford it if they received a commensurate tax reduction in recognition of government no longer providing these services.

      Oh, and privatise the ABC and SBS. It’s about time the market had a say on their quality and content. It’s also time viewers of these channels paid for the luxury rather than having their entertainment subsidised by the rest of us taxpayers.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      09:33am | 16/01/13

      The problem is that any party who tried to cut welfare would be voted immediately from office. Witness the vicious campaign that the AARP ran when the subject of chained CPI was raised…....

    • Tubesteak says:

      10:04am | 16/01/13

      Let them starve. It’ll provide some incentive to work

      Ms Take
      The rich not only pay more in pure taxes but pay a higher percentage of tax. The concept that rich people don’t pay tax is as fallacious as banking causing the GFC. The GFC was caused by socialist housing policies causing a housing bubble and forcing banks to lend into the housing bubble alongside government lending institutions

      We can only dream of such a utopia. Small steps first

      Either party could have at least 3-4 years before another election. I think you’ll find many would vote for them. It’s certainly separate the men from the boys

    • Tator says:

      12:46pm | 16/01/13

      Ms Take,
      the so called Rich, lets define them as the top 10% of income earners (those earning more than $95342 pa, from the ATO’s latest statistics which is for the 09/10 financial year, has their share of the total income tax receipts at 45.6% whilst only earning 30% of total taxable income.  So they are paying at least their fair share. The real high income earners or the top 1% earn less than 10% of total taxable income and pay 17% of total income tax receipts.  To put that in perspective, the top 10% are paying more tax than the bottom 83% of income earners who earn 59.7% of total taxable income. for the raw data

    • SAm says:

      08:35am | 16/01/13

      Im no economist but this is the way i see it..
      Growth can only be created by one thing..someone else shrinking, by taking what was theirs.
      Yes, hard work creates growth, but somewhere, someones missing out.
      Economic survival of the fittest.
      We have come so far now however that growth simply cannot continue, there is very little left to take from the weaker, and so, yes the planets economy is coming to a standstill.
      The only way to fix the situation is a reversal, the weak growing while the stronger shrink.
      The only other option is a complete destruction of the current flawed system.
      Sorry if that sounded rambly

    • Tubesteak says:

      12:37pm | 16/01/13

      No. Growth can come from finding new markets or utilising new technology or utilising existing technology in a more efficient manner to produce more or increasing population creating increasing demand or greater levels of credit and financing to enable growth

      There are many more but there’s a few.

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      08:36am | 16/01/13

      Australia must also be included in that list of countries with ‘onerous welfare systems.
      Time was we only had: The Dole, Pensions for the elderly & people with real disabilities.
      Today there is almost no need for anyone who really investigates all the benefits available, Tax breaks, payments etc. to even bother to go to work.
      This will come to bight us on the backside for as any fool knows the good times (solely reliant on the minerals boom which will also come to an end) will end and then where will we be?
      In as deep trouble as Greece etc.??

    • Gregg says:

      08:51am | 16/01/13

      Maybe I posted too early initially!
      I do not think you need to be even an aging rock star of any discipline to understand that Resilient Dynamism is a shortened title of the song ” lets just kick that empty can down the road a bit further “

      Like, when is enough going to be enough and supposed global economy’s rock stars and world leaders going to confess to Oprah that the international system is really stuffed, courtesy of an impractical WTO level playing field approach that continues to drain developed nations production to developing nations with all their problems.

      ” eyes turned to China as the global economy’s potential saviour. “
      Is that not extremely laughable with China currently and once again choking to death from self imposed activity.

      And then we have eyes on the post fiscal cliff fiasco and you read from supposedly the world’s richest nation something like
      ” The US could default on its debt if Congress does not increase the borrowing limit, a prospect Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has warned of. “

      You do not need to understand Greek to know that in Athens this would mean we must borrow more to pay our bills!

      How sick is the system if that is what leaders are allowing to happen to countries and how weak are leaders that stand up and preach hollow nonsense instead of saying enough is enough and you all have to tighten your belts now or have future generations in even greater turmoil.

      Even the author must be a little ill to have a view described by
      ”  Hearing some of the world’s most finely tuned minds grapple with these concepts is a privilege and something I always enjoy. “
      Some of the world’s most finely tuned minds!

      And all the time, it is not going to be anybody like those on fancy conditions living it up at Davos that ever have to suffer in facing the consequences.

    • acotrel says:

      08:52am | 16/01/13

      I suggest there will be a moment of truth which will come out of this crisis.  The two sides of the debate about increasing taxes or reducing spending need each other. ‘The cult of the individual’ is not the answer to everything ?

    • AdamC says:

      08:59am | 16/01/13

      People are a bit all over the shop when it comes to the fiscal cliff. One the one hand, people want the USA to cut its deficit. On the other, they want it to stimulate its economy. Well, newsflash, on a short-term, Keynesian analysis, those two objectives are mutually exclusive.

      Personally, I favour a ride over the fiscal cliff. Let the spending cuts and tax hikes happen. They will really help fix up America’s public finances. Not to mention, deficit spending does not really have a great history of reinvigorating economies. The cliff will cut US growth for a couple of quarters, but then it will be back on its growth trajectory. Bernanke can keep running the printing presses as well, to help things tick along.

      You know it makes sense.

    • james says:

      09:23am | 16/01/13

      It does however all the partisan rubbish makes it an unworkable reality.

    • K^2 says:

      09:01am | 16/01/13

      I understand what they mean, because when it comes to these evil pieces of trash that run money, we can rest assured any terminology they use has a masked nerfarious purpose to it.

      Dynamism is a metaphysical concept conceived by Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716) and developed into a full system of cosmology. Dynamism in metaphysical cosmology explains the material world in terms of active, pointlike forces, with no extension but with action at a distance. Dynamism describes that which exists as simple elements, or for Leibniz, monads (which by the way means humans), and groups of elements which have only the essence of forces. It was developed as a reaction against the passive view of matter in philosophical mechanism. Interaction between elements takes place without contact, through modes or even harmonics of motion, yielding all phenomena in the Universe.

      Perhaps more succinctly summed up by webster dictionary
      Dynamism : a theory that all phenomena (as matter or motion) can be explained as manifestations of force

      Resilience is the ability of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically.

    • Achmed says:

      09:03am | 16/01/13

      Aren’t we glad we live in Australia.  Low unemployment, low debt to GDP ratio, low interest rates, low inflation and still maintaining our Triple A rating.
      The problems we have are surmountable.  Our greatest challenge is to reduce our debt, the problem with that is that it will make Aust an even greater place to invest and continue to force up the value of our dollar which is currently one of the biggest issues for our manufacturing export industries.
      We need to reduce middle income welfare.  Labor made a start by reducing the baby bonus on second and subsequent children.  But it needs to go further.  The baby bonus was introduced by Howard at a time when there was no maternity leave payment.  This payment should replace the baby bonus totally for those who are eligible for the maternity leave payments.  It would be a start.  And the savings should be quarantined for one purpose only…reduce debt.

    • Mat says:

      09:47am | 16/01/13

      I will try this again (quote from Ross Greenwood) note Australia are not exempt - read below:

      Lesson # 1: Why the U.S. was downgraded:
      * U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
      * Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000
      * New debt: $1,650,000,000,000
      * National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
      * Recent budget cuts: $38,500,000,000
      Let’s now remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:
      * Annual family income: $21,700
      * Money the family spent: $38,200
      * New debt on the credit card: $16,500
      * Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
      * Total budget cuts: $385
      - Got It ?????
      OK, now Lesson # 2:
      Here’s another way to look at the Debt Ceiling:
      Let’s say, you come home from work and find there has been a
      sewer backup in your neighbourhood ... and your home has sewage
      all the way up to your ceilings.
      What do you think you should do?
      Raise the ceilings, or pump out the (ummmm) “effluent”?
      Lesson # 3 : in Australia today
      Right now the Federal Government is at pains to tell everyone -
      including us,
      the mug-punters, and the International Monetary Fund, that it will
      not exceed its own, self-imposed, borrowing limits.
      How much? $200 billion. And here’s a worry.
      If you work in a bank’s money market operation; or if you are a
      politician, the millions turn into billions and it rolls off the tip of the
      tongue a bit too easily. But every dollar that is borrowed, some
      time, has to be repaid.
      By you, by me and by the rest of the country.
      Just after 5 o’clock tonight I did a bit of math for Jason Morrison
      (Sydney radio presenter). But it’s so staggering its worth repeating
      First thought: Gillard, Swan, Wong, and before that Rudd, and all of
      the Labor Cabinet call these temporary borrowings, a temporary
      Remember Those Words : TEMPORARY DEFICIT.
      The total Government debt will end up around $200 billion.
      So here’s a very basic calculation… I used a home loan calculator
      to work it out….. it’s that simple..
      $200 billion is two hundred thousand million dollars.
      The current 10 year Government bond rate is 4.67 per cent. I
      worked the loanout over a period of 20 years. Now here’s where it
      gets scary .... really scary.
      The repayments on $200 billion come to more than one and a
      quarter billion dollars - every month - for 20 years. It works out
      that we - as taxpayers - will be repaying $15.4 billion in interest
      and principal every year .. $733 for every man woman and child -
      every year.
      The total interest bill over the 20 years is - get this - $108 billion.
      Remember, this is a Government that just 4 years ago had NO
      debt. NO debt.
      In fact, it had enough money to create the Future Fund, to pay the
      future liabilities of public servants’ superannuation, and it had
      enough to stick $20 billion into the Building Australia Fund .....
      A note was sent to me, which explains that the six leading
      members of the Government, from Ms Gillard down, have a
      collective work experience of 181 years, but only 13 years in the
      private sector.
      If you take out of those 13 years the number that were spent as
      trade union lawyers, 11 years, only two years were spent in the
      private sector.
      So out of those 181 years:
      - no years spent running their own business
      - no years spent starting their own business
      - no years spent as a director of a family business or a company
      - no years as a director of a public company
      - no years in a senior position in a public company
      - no years in a senior position in a private company
      - no years working in corporate finance
      - no years in corporate or business restructuring
      - no years working in or with a bank
      - no years of experience in the capital markets
      - no years in a stock-broking firm
      - no years in negotiating debt facilities with banks
      - no years running a small business
      - no years at the World Bank or IMF or OECD
      - no years in Treasury or Finance.
      But these people have plunged Australia into unprecedented debt.
      Well, in a way you can’t blame them.
      It’s clear the electorate did not do their homework, because the
      Government is there by right.
      Ah, but they are Labor and people vote for them because Labor is
      good for the working family - right???

    • Ben says:

      09:50am | 16/01/13

      This already occurs - if you get maternity leave payments you can’‘t get the baby bonus, it’s one or the other

    • A Perfect Circle says:

      09:55am | 16/01/13

      You get a “baby bonus” for a reason right.  The State says “thanks for providing us with another sheep to be farmed for its life time, here is your bonus payment for “berthing” that “product”  Thats how they see us, as a “product” of water (berthed/birthed) from your mothers “berth canal/birth canal” are you getting the picture yet?  Have a read about admiralty law, products and berthing, and then begin to understand how our system works.

    • Achmed says:

      10:55am | 16/01/13

      @Mat - the Future Fund was not crreated from surplus funds through good economic management , it was created from the sale of Telstra.
      Telstra: $30.24 billion received
      The surplus that Howard ended up with was in a large part created by the sale of other assetts;
      Australian airports: $8.5 billion
      Commonwealth Bank: $5.15 billion this was the amount from the final part of the sell off commenced by Keating that Howard was able to add to his budget
      Reserve Bank gold assets: 167 tonnes sold for $2.4 billion,
      National Rail Corporation and Freightcorp: $1.05 bn received,
      Broadcast Australia: $650 million received
      DASFLEET: $407 million in 1997,
      Telecommunications spectrum: about $1.3 billion received,
      Radio licence spectrum: about $1 billion received,
      Property portfolio 59 sites: for $1 billion,
      Total value from sales: $51.7 billion

      And that does not take into account the failure of Howard to address bracket creep in the taxation system that provided another $20 billion.  Bracket creep was finally addressed by labor after the 2007 election

    • Frank says:

      11:38am | 16/01/13

      10 out of 10 for your Liberal schilling Mat. I just hope your motions go back to normal soon given that your masters arm was up to the shoulder in your backside while you tapped that one out.

    • Mat says:

      12:49pm | 16/01/13

      @Frank - Read it again - it was a quote from Ross Greenwood - understand? Ross Greenwood. I copied and pasted for reading. Pretty interesting reading though. Any way, I just wish he would repeat it on Television - especially the part where he sticks it to the very under-qualified ALP

    • Tator says:

      01:00pm | 16/01/13

      so what did Howard spend those proceeds on.  Make up your mind, it was either paying off Keatings $96 billion debt which was paid off by 2004/05, after which the Future Fund as it was created in 2006 and the surpluses from the 2005/06 and 2006/07 budgets were invested there to offset the unfunded superannuation liabilities for Federal Public Servants who were being funded through general revenue.  The last asset sale was the 3rd tranche of Telstra shares in 2006 which were the only asset saless proceeds to be transferred to the Future Fund which was $15.4 billion.

    • Tator says:

      01:22pm | 16/01/13

      ” Bracket creep was finally addressed by labor after the 2007 election “
      So Rudd echoing the bulk of Howard’s tax cuts was addressing Bracket Creep.
      Pity you think that because the ATO shows otherwise here :
      So from 2003/04 to 07/08 tax brackets changed every year.  This does not include the major changes in brackets and rates in 00/01 with the implementation of the GST as well.  This is one of the furphies spread by the ALP as Howard’s wasteful spending when he let taxpayers keep more of their own money rather than blowing it on pick a winner schemes like the ALP tend to do more often than not.
      Plus the ALP is the only party in 30 years to actually increase the marginal rates in some tax brackets when they implemented the Carbon tax. The marginal tax rates for incomes above the new tax-free threshold but below $37000 rise to 19% from the present 15%.
      The marginal tax rate for those whose income fall in the next tax bracket, namely earnings of above $37000 but less than $80000, also goes up by 2.5% to 32.5%.
      They also reduced the LITO which was implemented by the Howard Government which was a defacto increase in the tax free threshold for low income earners only.

    • james says:

      02:53pm | 16/01/13

      “Plus the ALP is the only party in 30 years to actually increase the marginal rates in some tax brackets when they implemented the Carbon tax. The marginal tax rates for incomes above the new tax-free threshold but below $37000 rise to 19% from the present 15%.
      The marginal tax rate for those whose income fall in the next tax bracket, namely earnings of above $37000 but less than $80000, also goes up by 2.5% to 32.5%.”

      You forgot to mention that the tax free threshold tripled and everyone got a tax cut as a result of that, but dont let the facts get in the way of a partisan troll.

    • John says:

      09:16am | 16/01/13

      The problem with the west is that international banker world empire is not being properly managed. The financial system is corrupt, propped up being managed by international banker agents who are not there for the interests of the nation, but to enrich the international bankers. This is why globalization is failing, printing press’s are roiling, inflation is skyrocketing and this mindless materialistic culture for the sheepish people to spend is being marketed in the west suck up every last drop of wealth.

      The only solution is to end the international bankers, end the FED, Commonwealth Bank of England and EU central bank. IMF and WORLD BANK must go also.

      They should be all replaced by national central banks, owned by tax payers of the nation. Every nation should have it’s own currency and be allowed to print it’s own currency. Financial management should rest in the nation, not in international crooks and vipers from the FED, ECB and the IMF and the World Bank. The US must lose it’s reserve currency, there should be no reserve currency, as a reserve currency allows excessive printing and a nation that lives off the backs of others. Eg the US.

    • John says:

      09:24am | 16/01/13

      Bernanke seems to be running the press’s but he must get buyers of US currency, may this explain why our housing market is so high. The bankers are getting cheap credit from Bernanke, and the government here seems to be creating housing bubble’s so that our home buyers take the printing press’s worthless US dollar notes to purchase their bubble houses.

      Australia is be used to pro up the US economy. When the crash comes we will pay with real wealth back to wealth that was created out of the thin air from the US FED. The system is criminal, seems like australian government seems to serve the interests of bankers in the US then australian population.

      US financial stress is being offloading to other western nations. The US citizens have been shafted, now other western nations are being shafted into keep the diabolical US alive.

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      10:18am | 16/01/13

      I just wish the bloody Americans would get their act together!
      For, seemingly, months we were plagued by their stupid politicians & their so-called “Fiscal (or was it Financial) Cliff” & all the ridiculous crap they served up over that.
      Now we have them yapping about the USA’s Debt Ceiling & the need to raise it. Doubtless this will go on & on & on like those pathetic US soapies, Days of our Lives, The young & the Restless or whatever the hell they are called.
      They will run through again, like those repeats of repeats of repeats on our TV, as to how they will yet again face the possibility of going into Recession. Job Losses & all the other garbage they serve up.
      Why can’t those fool politicians simply sit down & address the issues in one hit?
      One day, if not already, people will simply ignore anything the US President, the US House of Reps & Senate & the bloody fools who keep seats warm in both Houses, have to say.
      Remember that old story about the little boy who called “Wolf” just once too often?
      That is what those fool Americans are doing.

    • Harquebus says:

      10:44am | 16/01/13

      Energy makes money. Money does not make energy. Oil has been the fuel for economic growth since the end of ww2. The U.S. reached its peak in oil production in 1970. The rest is history. Peak oil mates, peak oil.

    • Slowly but surely says:

      10:51am | 16/01/13

      The debt is unpayable. Just keep repeating that to yourself until your mind comes to terms with it. Then you will know what is going to happen. Dont waste time thinking about budget cuts a taxes and repaying debt. Just repeat. The debt is unpayable. It cannot be repayed. It will not be repayed.

    • Luc Belrose says:

      12:55pm | 16/01/13

      The real elephant in the room is China where the west has sent the majority of its businesses, factories and industries for economic reasons ie cheaper manufacturing costs and better profits. That is why Europe and US are in the doldrums today and for years to come. Australia is in there too but not as committed as the abovementioned. Politicians rarely talk about this big shift and no one dares mention return of their manufactures and businesses back home. We are somewhat lucky here because of our huge mining exports.

    • Oremygod says:

      03:12pm | 16/01/13

      Peak ore mate peak ore!

    • K^2 says:

      04:09pm | 16/01/13

      Richard, the image chosen as the cover for this article is actually quite telling, perhaps you didnt realise it, did you choose this symbolism intentionally!?

      Here we see the symbolism or archetype of the dome (or feminine in sacred geometry), and a red right hand.  In Philosophy, The Red Right Hand is a form of Glamour Failure where the right hand of a supernatural character is blood-stained or marked with some other variation of red coloring. The red right hand could be seen as the spiritual equivalent of bright patterns on venomous animals - a warning sign that something wrathful this way comes.

      Glamour Failure - This classic Trope refers to things that are not quite human and how they do a not quite perfect job of hiding that fact. Some form of magic, disguise, or illusion hides their true form, cloaking them from the masses. Often the veil can be pierced under the right circumstances, or by the right people. There may be clues to his true nature, if you look hard enough and take notes.

      Should intermitted vengeance arm again
      His red right hand to plague us?
      - Book II of Paradise Lost, by John Milton

      You ain’t got no money?
      He’ll get you some
      You ain’t got no car? He’ll get you one
      You ain’t got no self-respect,
      you feel like an insect
      Well don’t you worry buddy,
      cause here he comes
      Through the ghettos and the barrio
      and the bowery and the slum
      A shadow is cast wherever he stands
      Stacks of green paper in his
      red right hand
      -Nick Cave

    • acotrel says:

      05:39pm | 16/01/13

      ‘Ploise Hexplain ?’


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