Davos Matters, But Not Because of its Agenda

 

Davos is a pretty unremarkable and pricey ski resort in Switzerland. It has become famous over time as the seat of the World Economic Forum. Deep down, it is likely that none of the major attendees and speakers care really a lot about the agenda, or even the things they discuss.

For the truth is that most of the people, who can afford the $20,000 registration fee for the conference, go there to see and be seen. Most hotels in Davos are boring, overpriced places with appalling service. Yet for three days every year, it’s the coolest place to be in the world.

A little bar can pack billions of dollars in the wealth of attendees who party really hard. And make no mistake. For all the highfalutin themes discussed—be that global warming, gender equality, robots disrupting the workplace, or Trump—they don’t go there for that.

It’s actually pretty boring, even for journalists used to covering boring speeches. You don’t really need to fly all the way down to Zurich and then take the slow Rhaetian train that clatters slowly across the Alps for more than two hours to Davos. Even worse, in the process you make yourself the victim of deservedly uncelebrated Swiss hospitality. Why go to these lengths when you can simply read the stuff spoken there?

Certainly, it can be upsetting for some to see decision-makers getting together to party hard. The whole place is brimming with frivolity. Seeing in the morning the faces you saw at drinking binges the night before, now transformed to pomp and circumstance, smacks of hypocrisy. Yes, yes and yes.

But Davos matters, a lot. It is the venue par excellence where these elites can get together to communicate. Even when they are feting themselves with expensive champagne. They can discuss things outside the formal channels, without the constraints that their government or executive positions may force on them.

And communication is vital. Most conflicts in the world—not to say essentially all—are due to communication breakdowns. That is especially vital in periods of turmoil, like our times. These Davos elites, whose decisions have a disproportionately large impact on the lives of millions of persons, are not fools. They are aware of what’s going on around them. Arguably, that’s why they are where they are. It may be a matter of discussion whether they have earned their right to expensive frivolity when others are starving. But it’s definitely a good thing that Davos exists, so for at least three days, these government and industry leaders come together and talk. For the alternative—that they don’t talk—is much worse for all.

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