Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Conference on the economic situation

Last Thursday BusinessQuests helped organize a conference on the financial situation. We had Prof. Bruno Colmant, who also happens to be the CEO of Euronext, and Prof. Philippe Defeyt on the panel and they presented a number of interesting developments to explain the causes and the dynamics of the current situation. Aside from the content, which is very much within my field of attention, the event has been a great opportunity for me to test the adoption of online tools by a predominantly tech-conservative  audience. Results of my tests in a future post. This one is about the content of the conference.

Here are a few of their most noteworthy points:

  • while there have been crises before, this one is like no other because of the speed of information processing that we now have

  • according to Colmant the roots of this crisis are in the Internet bust of the early part of this century (needless to say it's an assertion that had me raise my eyebrows)

  • Defeyt made a passionate case against established practices of trade liberalization without any effort being done to bring better coherence to labor and fiscal legislations of trading partners

  • both panelists expressed concern that the consequences of the current period could be social unrest similar to what we now see in Greece

  • panelists agreed that the causes of this mess are in the US and that the collapse of Lehman Brothers prevented this crisis from hitting Europe much more than it does. According to them the extent of the banking problems is significantly smaller in Europe compared to the US

  • Defeyt and Colmant felt that the lack of trust of citizens for established institutions, be it banks or governments is cause for real concern and probably the single biggest impediment to relatively quick recovery

  • they also both agreed on the principle that nothing should be done to help the auto industry because its future is behind us at least insofar as its current form is concerned. Interestingly they mentionned that there's production overcapacity in the range of 30% to 35%

  • Colmant made a vibrant case in favor of market mechanisms claiming that markets are efficient for letting supply and demand meet to define the fair price of assets, something that had Defeyt react by saying that there's a host of resources that are used by the economy, which are completely unaccounted for. Defeyt also questionned the way in which economic prosperity is measured in our countries and claimed that we should be looking for free circulation of people, ideas and culture, not products because it does not make economic-ecologic sense to be transporting vegetables across Europe when they could be sold on markets closer to the place of production

  • the audience had a couple of very interesting questions about the extent to which Adam Smith's vision is actually verified in the real world, whether the market is relaly efficient considering irrational jumps in prices of assets, whether China is where the world economy's salvation will come from...

Overall good stuff and an interesting evening although I doubt anyone got out of the room with clear answers. One of the reasons why we put totether a participative site on Ning to give attendees an opportunity to continue the discussion and access photos, video and notes from the event. I am curious to see whether people will start conversations and see the opportunity to take an active part in this crucial public debate...

For me this has been a great way to test how a more conservative audience of late adopters of technology reacts to the usage of tools like Amiando (excellent stuff) for setting-up the conference or Ning after the conference. Furthermore, we ran a survey on SurveyMonkey about the economic situation, its causes according to the audience and the assessment of the quality of information people got from the media and from banks. A vast majority of the people (we polled about 30% of the attendees) were really unhappy with the way banks handled the matters pertaining to the crisis. I'll publish some of the conclusions later this week.

Below is a mind map hosted at WiseMapping, but it's in French, the language of the conference.

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