The Meaning of Davos in 2011

The World Economic Forum's über-elite meeting in Switzerland begins this week

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This week, some of the world's most prominent business and political leaders will join top academics, artists, NGO chiefs, and religious leaders in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting--a whirlwind of Big Idea conferences, glitzy dinners, backroom deals, and informal networking. Last year, commentators wondered whether the elite extravaganza had lost some of its cachet in light of the economic crisis. This year, commentators are probing the very purpose of the event, now in its 41st year:

  • What Impact Does Davos Have? wonders Jack Ewing at The New York Times. Last year, he explains, "for all the talk of crisis prevention, participants at the forum missed what proved to be the big economic story of 2010--Europe's sovereign debt crisis." Ewing notes that organizers are addressing the criticism that Davos "is more talk and partying than action" by steering this year's agenda more toward identifying concrete solutions to "global threats like scarce credit or chronic disease or, better still, preventing them in the first place."
  • It's a CEO 'Self-Help' Group, suggests Gillian Tett at The Financial Times. Tett quotes an investment banker and Davos attendee who believes the summit is "where CEOs trade information and feel solidarity in a hostile world." The world's CEOs, Tett says, are insecure about mounting hostility toward elites, shifts in world power, and global systems that are at once interconnected and fragmented, making the world feel "like an increasingly murky, complex and unpredictable place, where shocks keep emerging in areas ranging from credit markets to oil technology to Tunisia."
  • Economic Crisis Magnified Its Value, asserts CNN's David Buik: "It has taken world problems such as food, the failure of World Trade Organization members to reach a global trade agreement, climate change and a financial crisis in 2008, to take this event out of the jamboree category and transform it into a preeminent event for all politicians, CEOs, finance directors and economists to be supportive of."
  • Davos Is the Future of Diplomacy, declares Parag Khanna at The Wall Street Journal. Davos, in stressing authority over sovereignty and mobilizing the world's diffuse power centers, "reflects the true parameters of global diplomacy today better than the United Nations," Khanna charges:

We have entered a new Middle Ages: an era that most resembles the pre-Westphalian era of nearly 1,000 years ago. That was the period of history when the East was as powerful (if not more so) than the West, cities mattered more than nations, powerful dynasties and trading companies were engines of growth and innovation, private mercenaries fought in all wars, religious crusades shaped inter-cultural relations, and new trade routes over land and sea forged the world’s first (nearly) global economy.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.