Does Davos ever make a dif­fer­ence?

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Iain Martin

AS the great and the good - plus a few pop stars - gather, it is time to re­flect whether tax­pay­ers get any ben­e­fit from the an­nual shindig. What do An­gela Merkel, Prince An­drew, Al Gore and Phar­rell Wil­liams have in common? The an­swer is that they are all ex­pected in Davos, Switzer­land, later this week for the an­nual gath­er­ing held by the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum (WEF), from Jan­uary 21-24. While Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Merkel will no doubt give del­e­gates her views on de­fla­tion and the loom­ing re­turn of the Eu­ro­zone cri­sis, the Queen's son is there to pro­mote trade in a speech that may also touch on his own re­cent dif­fi­cul­ties.

Mean­while, the failed US pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Al Gore will share a stage with Phar­rell Wil­liams to dis­cuss cli­mate change. Wil­liams is the Amer­i­can song­writer and pro­ducer fa­mous for the rather con­tro­ver­sial hit Blurred Lines. At Davos, all man­ner of lines are blurred as an un­likely mix of business bosses, bankers, se­nior politi­cians, heads of state, tech billionaires, pop­stars, Nobel Prizewin­ning econ­o­mists, me­dia moguls and jour­nal­ists who get to­gether for four days in an Alpine re­sort. So what ex­actly is Davos for? Is any­thing con­crete achieved amid all the glitzy net­work­ing and cor­po­rate back­slap­ping?

If the se­cre­tive and much smaller Bilder­berg Group, a ri­val out­fit, is the equiva- lent of the global elite's closed board meet­ing, then Davos is the nois­ier af­fair held with the me­dia in attendance - the an­nual gen­eral meet­ing where share­hold­ers meet their fel­low in­vestors and hear what de­vel­op­ments are in store. It grew from the es­tab­lish­ment, in 1971, of WEF in Geneva by Klaus Sch­wab, a Ger­man aca­demic keen to en­cour­age in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and ex­pose Euro­pean busi­nesses to the lat­est man­age­ment tech­niques. The an­nual gath­er­ing be­came the cen­tre­piece of the WEF's ac­tiv­i­ties.

There were 444 del­e­gates at the in­au­gu­ral one and, as Davos grew in fame, it at­tracted world lead­ers along­side business power-bro­kers. This week, 2,500 in­vited guests - a quar­ter of them Amer­i­can and 10 per cent Bri­tish - will meet to hear pan­el­lists an­a­lyse the is­sues of the day. The theme this year is ' The New Global Con­text' - although what that means is any­one's guess.

The real ac­tion at Davos, how­ever, hap­pens away from the staged, set-piece events, in a bliz­zard of so­cial­is­ing, glad-hand­ing and pon­tif­i­cat­ing - or "speed-net­work­ing", dur­ing which not one eye is met, as peo­ple scan the room for more im­por­tant backs to slap. Some ex­ec­u­tives pre­fer to set up court in their chalet or ho­tel suite, where fi­nance min­is­ters, bankers and se­nior jour­nal­ists come to pay homage. For cor­po­rate titans with busy di­aries, Davos pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to talk to all the in­flu­en­tial fig­ures they might want to see through­out the year, over just a few days. Then, in the evening, after din­ners hosted by the ma­jor banks and spon­sors, it is party time.

In 2013, the Nap­ster founder and Face­book share­holder Sean Parker threw a no­to­ri­ous "taxi­dermy party", with big-ticket DJs, non-stop cock­tails and stuffed an­i­mals with lasers for eyes. The ca­vort­ing causes some re­sent­ment on the part of the WEF, be­cause it con­flicts with the aus­tere found­ing vi­sion of Klaus Sch­wab. But any dis­ap­proval does not stop the par­ty­ing. All this fre­netic ac­tiv­ity, com­bined with the moun­tain air, tends to get those at­tend­ing rather overex­cited. This week, Twit­ter time­lines will be snowed un­der with tweets from Davos.

Many del­e­gates will post pic­tures and ob­ser­va­tions about any­thing from a chief ex­ec­u­tive's snow shoes to ba­nal state­ments made by the pan­el­lists. This, de­spite almost none of it be­ing of any in­ter­est to any­one out­side Davos. The scep­tics are be­ing un­fair, though, say those who run the WEF. Theirs is an event that does im­por­tant work: How else are the lessons of pol­icy fail­ures to be learnt if prime min­is­ters, bankers and business types do not meet to talk, bond and lis­ten to lead­ing thinkers? After all, the aim of their non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion is, they say, to "im­prove the state of the world". Im­prov­ing the world is a mar­vel­lous idea, but not ev­ery­one agrees that Davos is a force for good.

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