The World Economic Forum, also known as “Davos” for the Swiss mountain town where it is held, also known as the largest annual gathering of political and business elites up to and including heads of state, is impossible not to mock.
Maybe it’s the way that so many smart and powerful people seem to always end up saying so little of consequence. Maybe it’s incongruity, as this Dealbook article pointed out last year, of the rich and powerful gathering in cloistered splendor at a time of rising income inequality. Or maybe it’s just the mental image of former Russian President Dimitri Medvedev sharing a hot cocoa with Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat.
Whatever the reason, do not expect anyone this year to surpass the pinnacle of World Economic Forum satire, achieved in 2011 by Reuters blogger Felix Salmon with “The Triumph of Davos.” Writing from Davos itself, Salmon seemed bothered by the wide gap between the mood at the conference and the events in Cairo, where protesters were on day three of a Tahrir Square sit-in that eventually became the Egyptian revolution.
Salmon’s post (satirically) congratulated Davos on its “effective and timely intervention in Egypt,” which he said had finally disproven “cynics” who saw the conference as a “sybaritic alpine gabfest.” In reality, of course, despite Davos’s self-image as a world-changing collective of benevolent elites, the conference didn’t do much of anything for Egypt. Here’s more from Salmon:
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.
Salmon asks of the Davos critics, “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.” Ouch.
Substitute Egypt with Syria, for example, or the Sahel, or whatever other major global crisis you like, and Salmon’s post might still hold up. He concluded, “The triumph of Davos in 2011 has confirmed the World Economic Forum as an indispensable gathering-point for global leadership for decades to come.”