Nick Paumgarten attended Davos this year to give us mere mortals a sense of what exactly goes on at the World Economic Forum's mythic annual meeting. In the latest New Yorker, Paumgarten shares his backstage impressions of the meeting, from the corridor conversations with bigwigs of business and global leaders, to the unofficial Davos party scene, and even to the Occupy movement protesters out on the streets of the Swiss town. He finds it hard to define exactly what Davos is, but his efforts to do so make for a fascinating piece. Here is an excerpt:
The mood at Davos: every year, people try to put their finger on it, as though a single state of mind can be attributed to so many stakeholders dwelling in so many silos. The economic and geopolitical context of the meeting this year was the potential collapse of the European monetary and political union, a teetering global financial system, the threat of chronic unemployment, widening wealth disparity, increasingly restive populations, and the shift in resources and capital, and therefore in power, from West to East and from North to South, to say nothing of ongoing environmental degradation, global poverty, and widespread armed conflict and mistreatment of women. So it is safe to say that, in terms of the W.E.F.’s stated commitment of “improving the state of the world,” the mood was a little blue.
The theme of the meeting was “The Great Transformation.” Schwab, early in the week, struck a note of self-flagellation. “Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us,” he said. “We have sinned.” He also spoke of the danger of “intergenerational conflict.” In the next few days, the phrase “the end of capitalism” got tossed around, yet for all but a few of the stakeholders present such a prospect was as inconceivable as it would be unwelcome. David Roth, a protester with the Occupy movement, dismissed such talk as “staged self-criticism.” Certainly, all the commotion about the world’s problems didn’t yield many concrete solutions. As a foreign economic minister said dryly during one of the sessions, while discussing some common-sense alterations to the global financial system, “Implementation is problematic.”
“It’s as if we woke up and discovered we were now in a different world,” the economist W. Brian Arthur told me. “It’s like that bit in ‘Lord of the Rings,’ where they are underground, and they hear the distant rumblings of the Balrog. Here there are rumblings of dissatisfaction. But only rumblings.”
Read MAGIC MOUNTAIN What happens at Davos? here.