Has Davos Lost Its Cachet?

In a year of scarcity, observers wonder whether the cream of global elite powwows has changed

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The World Economic Forum in Davos, where über-CEOs, politicans, and celebrity do-gooders rub shoulders, is the final word in global elite extravaganzas--or at least it used to be. Some think the glitzy concentration of power may have a little less oomph this year. Why? One commentator says it's the recession, another says it's the dilution of the elite attendees by hoipolloi. But it's clear that even if the "Davos man" is on the out, to critics the conference still stands for the acme of an out-of-touch, globalizing ethos.

  • Recession Has Hurt Davos, American Attendance, writes 24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre, who says, whether for reasons of public relations or utility," American CEOs are skipping out and opting for the Clinton Global Initiative gathering instead. "Davos has become a mad house over the last several years with pundits, politicians, artists, and economists there to join ... to discuss the world's economic problems. The event may simply have become so cluttered with irrelevant people and off-beat agendas that it is a waste of time for US CEOs."
  • American Attendance Isn't the Problem--It's the Chinese Attendance Superclass author David Rothkopf says "the appeal ... of the entire endeavor is fading for several reasons," as Davos as networking event grows dated. The size is certainly becoming a problem, but also "the cool kids of the 21st century--such as the Chinese--are in short-supply (although the organizers are working like crazy to fix that)."
  • But Maybe Those Making the Trek Are More Serious "Maybe a less trendy World Economy Forum is exactly what we need," muses Time's Barbara Kiviat. "Last night one British political type was telling me that she's getting the sense that the folks who are showing up are the ones who are the most focused, the most interested in really talking about substantive issues." But she's not entirely convinced: "the two big groups that people are most talking about as missing--American bankers and Obama Administration officials--would be nice to have around."
  • I Wouldn't Bet On It, sighs Reuters's Felix Salmon, who writes from the event that "the official 'purpose' page is full of claptrap of the highest order." His take: "Davos is great at throwing a couple of archbishops onto a panel with Niall Ferguson entitled 'Restoring Faith in Economics' (geddit?)." It's not so great at self-awareness. Mutual flattery was precisely what got CEOs and their world-steering plans into trouble to begin with, and mutual flattery remains in spades. "Is anybody here," Salmon asks," seriously examining the idea that Davos was institutionally responsible, at least in part, for the economic and financial catastrophe which befell the world in 2008?" Adds Alex Balk from across the blogosphere, after a smiling reference to Samuel Beckett, "Felix Salmon cracks me up."
  • Reach Out and Touch the Globalization Sure, says The Washington Post's David Ignatius, "in many ways, Davos is everywhere now. The idea that it represented--of networked global business and politics--is now a pervasive fact of life." It's as present in an iPhone as in Switzerland--yet people keep coming back. "With something as ephemeral as globalization, I think there's a desire to actually touch it, feel it, stand next to its fellow members in line for a cup of coffee or the men's and ladies' rooms." Insofar as the World Economic Forum lends "flesh-and-blood Caesers and Neroes" to the "digital empire," it works--and it adapts remarkably well, he notes.
  • Except If Globalization Is Going Regional At Brookings, Raj Desai and James Raymond point out that "regional organizations may be the best-suited mechanisms to govern the global economy in the 21st century." If participants can pull away from "trying to redesign and rebuild the mechanisms of global economic coordination" and attend to these new trends, then all the better. If not, with confidence in this sort of conference at an epic low, the "Davos man's days [could be] numbered."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.