Mario Draghi got stuck waiting for a lift on his way to announce the ECB’s bond-buying programme yesterday, which feels like a metaphor for something. Still, when he shouldered his bazooka at least its long-delayed bang did manage to be bigger than expected.
But with European government bond yields already at historic lows, a grand intervention can only do so much. Draghi has bought time – at immense cost. Let’s hope it gets spent wisely.
Meanwhile, the most important lesson here may be the visible limits to centralised power. I’m in the middle of Moises Naim’s fascinating 2013 book, The End of Power, which argues that we are seeing the increasing reduction of authority for everyone from CEOs to presidents to heads of central banks. Naim sees this under-appreciated trend born of factors including radically better communication technology and a rising global middle class.
Happily, as power gets more diffuse, plenty is going right, with even the worst-off gaining more control over their destinies. This week, for instance, the latest letter from the Gates Foundation includes bullish predictions for the future of mobile banking for the world’s 2.5bn unbanked. That’s of particular interest for this paper, which has helped raise millions with its Christmas appeals to support better financial services in Africa. If the firms involved can overcome outdated regulation, the Foundation now sees mobile banking helping to transform the lives of the world’s poorest in the next decade and a half, leapfrogging innovation even in the developed world. 2bn more people will gain access to an account and the full range of financial services will become available through their phones.
As Europe struggles, our world is on an upward trajectory. But, while it may take the sleek attendees of Davos a while to notice, strings pulled from the centre have less and less to do with it.