Making sense of Davos

After Adrian Monck had decamped from poorly-paid academic life to well-heeled employment in charge of Public Affairs for the World Economic Forum he once gently chided me for an intemperate, exasperated comment I had made about the Forum’s annual talkfest. In retrospect, I think I was reacting to the infuriating smugness of journalists (and bloggers) who were really just flaunting their entree into such an exclusive club — much as sports reporters might flaunt a ticket to the dining room at Augusta National during the Masters. But because I take Adrian seriously, I started paying more attention to what goes on in Davos. So I was intrigued to find that he has started blogging again with this thoughtful post. “Davos”, he writes.

“is an independently-minded moun­tain com­munity, steeped in Switzerland’s dir­ect demo­cratic tra­di­tion. Its alti­tude and an enter­pris­ing doc­tor, Alex­an­der Spen­gler, made it a des­tin­a­tion for well-heeled tuber­cu­losis suf­fer­ers. Thomas Mann set his com­edy of ennerv­a­tion, The Magic Moun­tain, in one of its san­at­oria. Albert Ein­stein helped kick-start its repu­ta­tion as an intel­lec­tual retreat (video).

Davos today is a work­ing alpine town. The town’s tour­ism is a func­tional con­trast to the chocol­ate box world of Vil­lars, Zer­matt and St Mor­itz. The Forum’s Annual Meet­ing boosts the local eco­nomy, but not its winter sports. Barely one-fifth of those par­ti­cip­at­ing can be accom­mod­ated in a five-star hotel. The local ski-lift com­pany has con­tem­plated shut­ting the lifts dur­ing the Meet­ing. When I’m there, as a mem­ber of the Forum, I sleep on a single bed and share a bath­room. Hard­ship? Not really, but it is work.

And that suits the Forum, because it deals with the world as it is, not as it would prefer it to be. It is not a decision-making body. Nor is it a con­spir­acy in which the horo­lo­gical com­pon­ents of global gov­ernance and industry are wound together to frus­trate the rest of the world…”.

Of course one has to remember that he works for the forum, so the Mandy Rice-Davies caveat applies. Still, the next post on the blog gives a set of interesting, contradictory and sometimes critical perspectives on this year’s event.

I’ve been to Davos once — many years ago, long before the Forum was thought of. I thought it a rather dull, workaday place, quite different from St Moritz which is just around the corner. I remember it chiefly because I bought a Swiss Army knife there which I still have.