The triumph of Davos

By Felix Salmon
January 30, 2011

Davos, in 2011, was the year when the cynics were finally proven wrong. Long derided as a sybaritic alpine gabfest, the World Economic Forum astonished the world with what it was capable of this year, deftly leveraging the talk around its chosen theme — “shared norms for the new reality” — into an effective and timely intervention in Egypt. The Forum’s slogan — “committed to improving the state of the world” — became reality, as the actions of a small and powerful few atop a distant Swiss alp managed to give shape and direction to what would otherwise have remained inchoate and dangerous demonstrations in the volatile North African hotspot.

Certainly the Forum had a lot to work with — it has long been looking long and hard at global risks including political instability in undemocratic countries as well as the demographics of North Africa and the Middle East; the adverse effects of high unemployment among both educated and uneducated youth; the game-changing aspects in autocratic regimes of the rapid spread of information over cellphones, the internet, and satellite TV; and countless other issues of direct relevance to Egypt.

On top of that, as the Egypt crisis evolved over the first few days of the Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, two things rapidly became clear. Firstly, this was an astonishing stroke of good timing: rarely is a major global crisis so fluid and susceptible to outside influence just as the world’s top politicians, businessmen, and thinkers are all in the same place at the same time. Secondly, the work being put in by delegates to define shared norms for the new reality was directly relevant to Egypt, which was clearly in desperate need of shared norms for everybody to agree on as it moves uncomfortably into recognition that it’s now in a new reality.

The result was undoubtedly impressive. All panels and events were reconfigured to concentrate on Egypt and what the delegates at Davos could do to help. The small Swiss village was full of leaders of every stripe — women’s leaders, youth leaders, media leaders, business leaders, and, of course, politicians with direct influence and importance, such as Amre Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League. Knowing that swift and focused action was the order of the day, they rapidly put together an action plan. It was both clear enough to persuade Hosni Mubarak that global opinion had turned decisively against him and that his position was no longer tenable, and flexible enough to adapt to rapidly-changing realities in Cairo.

With money from a large number of the Davos rich and communications expertise from broadcast, telecommunications, and social-media representatives, the manifesto put together in the space of just two days at the Congress Center became a clear rallying point not only for Egypt’s disaffected youth but also for their counterparts across the region. And with radical and democratic change now just a matter of timing, Arab countries saw that a peaceful transition to stable democracy was both possible and necessary. The rest is history.

Cynical bloggers had said that even events of Egypt’s magnitude would barely make a dent in the rigid and out-of-touch culture of Davos. The parties and ski trips would continue, they reckoned, the program would remain unchanged, and the handful of delegates interested in Egypt would simply cluster around flat-screen televisions screening Al Jazeera rather than actually doing anything productive. Those bloggers were forced to eat their words.

Did they think that the Forum’s commitment to improving the state of the world was simply a veneer designed to make an astonishingly expensive professional-networking event look vaguely respectable? Of course it wasn’t. We might be in a new reality now, but the leaders of Davos more than ever have the ability and determination to transcend their selfish agendas and unite to effect a major and positive change in the world. The triumph of Davos in 2011 has confirmed the World Economic Forum as an indispensable gathering-point for global leadership for decades to come.


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Outstanding satire!

Posted by rationall | Report as abusive

You almost had me there, Felix

Posted by Murphp | Report as abusive

Python lives!

Posted by walt9316 | Report as abusive

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Posted by EricVincent | Report as abusive

An interesting article in the NY Times today, along similar lines? ss/30charity.html

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

Your date is off by 61 days

Posted by msobel | Report as abusive

All hail the Davos Man!!

Posted by GregHao | Report as abusive


Posted by PhilPerspective | Report as abusive

Champion the plight of people who aren’t the elite and power brokers in the insular Davos world of economics? Well there is lots of concern… but not for Egyptians. For oil… the implications of the internet uprisings … about how they could shut it down before it brings anger to the streets in their own countries… those shared norms. (but not particularly new reality)

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

How did Mubarak react to the input from Davos?

Did the Davos atttendees convince his security forces to stop looting?

Posted by ErnieD | Report as abusive

The satire is biting, but then why do you bother going to this ball-washing event year-after-year? Cyncism doesn’t solve anything unless you are a comedian/satirist, and though your attempts at video were funny you plainly take yourself as a serious journalist. Write something to make a change, or make the change yourself. I’m just sick of this kind of whiny, pretentious blather and find it’s a main reason nothing ever changes.

Posted by CDN_finance | Report as abusive

I liked your post Felix.

Posted by dedalus | Report as abusive

+1 to CDN_finance

Posted by GregHao | Report as abusive

Okay, is there like an obscure British custom that moves (U.S.) April 1 to January? Like Boxing Day or something.

#2 Question, did you do any skiing or just walk around in a suit all day feeling cynical and bitter. Somehow I suspect the latter, which would probably leave me cranky too were I not too insubordinate to ever give up a ski day.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

What you needed was a final paragraph where they built a Rainbow Bridge from Switzerland to Cairo and used it to ship chocolates to the children of Egypt, as well as a 250-foot tall cuckoo clock to be installed in a public square as a lasting token of goodwill.

I’m going to be real honest here, because you’re one of my handful of must-read bloggers: I find myself tuning out a lot of what you write from Davos. Nothing useful happens there, and I know you’re all cynical and crabby about it. Got that. So when are you going to stop attending?

Posted by ckbryant | Report as abusive

Don’t listen to the cranks, Felix.

To go to Davos and not be sucked in by the self-love and hypefest is a major achievement. You were unable to strap yourself to the mast, so had only your cynicism to protect you (and a mighty shield it is!).

By going you help crack the veneer. I don’t see anyone else doing this. Look at poor Blodgett! It’s far too much of a wet-dream for him to do anything but give in.

Go back next year, Felix. Bring a video camera. It’s like the ozone hole. Hard to get started but once it’s there tends to grow.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

Physician, heal theyself!

Hmmm. Let’s see what uber-relevant headlines Felix has? Microfinance (not bad), Wine-list (misspelled?), Nick Clegg’s briefing room (hmmm), Bank regulation.

Wasn’t it Marx who said that many have endeavored to describe the world, the point is to change it? Felix, if you want to be cynical and bitter, you should do something other than 1. Complain about banks; 2. Post lifestyles columns; and 3. Write about obscure topics of marginal systemic importance.

Egypt *is* huge, Felix. Why don’t you do some actual analysis and reporting on that economy, rather than carping about the do-nothings in Switzerland?

Posted by Publius | Report as abusive

Davos coverage is routinely tuned out by the great unwashed masses (I believe this is something Felix has pointed out before but most assuredly so did Justin Fox over at HBR), so that’s nothing new.

I suppose one of the reasons why journos go is to glad hand but also to be plugged in. Maybe Felix will develop a new CEO source who’s making his (and it would be a he) into the areas not accessible by working journalists and that might turn into a real scoop in 2011. Does it sound absurd? Sure. But is it within the realm of possibility? Absolutely. And that’s why journos go.

That and it’s probably free for them.

Posted by GregHao | Report as abusive

LOL. Great work!

Posted by junkcharts | Report as abusive

Awesome, Felix. Great satire!

Posted by Gotthardbahn | Report as abusive

You could certainly see your enthusiasm in the paintings you write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart. “We may pass violets looking for roses. We may pass contentment looking for victory.” by Bern Williams.

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