Friedman: Mood At World Economic Forum 'Anxious' New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who has attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for 13 consecutive years, tells NPR that this year, more than any other, people are looking for an answer to the economic crisis. He says the big question is: "When is Washington going to get well?"
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Friedman: Mood At World Economic Forum 'Anxious'

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Friedman: Mood At World Economic Forum 'Anxious'


Every year, heads of state, international business leaders, and a collection of celebrities gather in the village of Davos, high in the Swiss Alps. They're there for high-profile hobnobbing at the World Economic Forum. Not surprisingly, this year's meeting has a more somber tone, given the global financial collapse. There are no big-ticket goodie bags or free iPods, and there are fewer champagne-and-caviar soirees, and the focus this year is really on the economy. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is a regular at Davos, and he said the mood is uneasy.

Mr. TOM FRIEDMAN (Columnist, The New York Times): Everyone's kind of looking for the answer. You know, that panel that they can go to, that person they can have a one-on-one with who will give them the answer to this economic crisis and where, you know, their company should build, where they should personally invest. There's almost an urgency of people trying to find the answer right now, and I'm not sure the answer is here or anywhere, but people are sure looking for it.

NORRIS: I imagine they're looking for solutions also with 40 heads of state and hundreds of political and business leaders there. Is there a chance that there might be an effort to find a collective solution to the global financial mess?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: No. I really don't think so. In some ways, the most important person that everyone really wants to know what he's thinking, of course, isn't here, and that's Barack Obama. And I think everybody understands that, you know, what's so unique about this economic crisis is that it began in America. It didn't begin in Thailand, didn't begin in Korea, it didn't begin in Mexico, it didn't begin in Russia. It began in America.

When it began in other years in all those other places, everyone could insulate themselves from it. But when we get it in America, no one can protect themselves from it. And so there's only anyone senior Obama administration official here, and I think really, you know, the big question on everyone's mind is, you know, when is Washington going to get well, because until we get well, really, it's going to be very hard for anyone else to really get well.

NORRIS: Do you suspect that there might be a certain amount of finger-pointing at the U.S. or anger that the Obama administration didn't send a larger delegation?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: You know, I think people understand. He just got in the office, and he's still finding where the rooms are. And his people, his Treasury secretary was just confirmed. So I don't sense that. You know, I was at - I'm just recalling, I was at a dinner, you know, last year when really - when this economic crisis was just getting under way here. And I remember a prominent banker coming in saying, you know, you Americans gave the world financial SARS, you know, the disease that got exported out of China you'll recall and got kind of coughed around the world. And you know, I think people are over the finger-pointing now, and I think they're in a much more, I would say, nervous and anxious state, and that's just, give me the solution.

NORRIS: A lot of business has taken place at Davos over the years, meetings between North and South Korea with F.W. de Clerk sitting down with Nelson Mandela for the first time. But some say the forum has lost its bearings in recent years. It's become much more of a celebrity confab. Is there sort of a recalibration at Davos this year?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: You know, hard to tell. You know, anything as big as Davos, everyone has their own Davos, you know, and this place is so easy to caricature it's not even funny, you know. I didn't do the caviar parties in the good years, so I won't miss them this year.

NORRIS: Tom, thanks so much for talking to us.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: My pleasure.

NORRIS: Tom Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. He's also the author of "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America."

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