The most serious newspaper in Switzerland, the Neue Zuercher Zeitung, seems relatively unperturbed by the loss of the 2002 Davos (incidentally, you can get a rough and ready translation of the page here). What they are concerned about, is that the Forum returns to Switzerland in 2003.
The Tagesanzeiger has a poll on their site to solicit opinion. 28% of respondents reckon the Forum should be abolished in any case, 13% say it should stay in New York, and 11% say, “poor Switzerland”.
I’ve polled some people who I think truly understand Davos for their reactions. The most eloquent response so far has come from Steve Kobrin, a professor at The Wharton School. Steve writes, “It was a bit like the musical Brigadoon, a less than completely real community that came together once a year. I think that we will lose that sense of community and magic in a hotel in NYC. There just is something about coming out of the Congress Center to sunshine and snow that the Waldorf can’t match.”
Another friend feels that, however sad the move, the Forum could not afford a flop in Davos. This way, if it doesn’t go according to plan, they can say it was a noble experiment that didn’t work.
New York, New York
Okay, a day away from the computer and I miss the biggest Davos story in years. Forum president Klaus Schwab is holding a news conference today in New York (5pm at the Waldorf, if you want to go) with mayor Giuliani and governor Pataki. They will announce that the 2002 “Davos” will be in New York.
I have no privileged information, so I feel free to speculate. The official reason will be the Forum’s deep-seated desire to show solidarity with the victims of terrorism. Secondarily, the Swiss will be blamed for being unwilling to provide the necessary security. And those reasons will be sincere. But I suspect the motivation for this extraordinary move is that too many people were indicating they wouldn’t come to Davos, Switzerland at the end of January.
The 2002 Annual Meeting (to give it its official title) was going to be exceptional, because of the events of 11 September. So I hope this exceptional Davos will be a huge success in a different setting. But I am gloomy about the prospects. Why?
The isolated village in the mountains is an intrinsic part of Davos’s character and success. I wouldn’t have kvetched if it had been some other mountain fastness, but Manhattan is about as far from that as it would be possible to get on Earth.
Medieval philosophers thought there was value in making knowledge difficult to acquire. First, it would exclude the unworthy. Second, the very fact that a struggle was necessary to reach knowledge would be a part of the value. Davos is like that (both the exclusion and the greater result thanks to the struggle). Everyone, even the president of the United States, has a difficult journey to get to Davos. Once there, they are, to an unusual degree, stuck with each other.
Unlike a conference (and Davos is never a conference), you can’t hop out to some other meeting. Zurich is three hours away; even a helicopter takes the best part of an hour. You are guaranteed to bump into most of the people you want to see on the street, in the lobbies of the handful of hotels, even the ski lift on Sunday morning.
In New York, despite what I am sure will be gargantuan efforts by the Forum, the Annual Meeting will be a conference. Participants will arrive in a fleet of limousines from apartments and hotels scattered all over a vast city. They will come and go (“I just have to take care of a few things in the office�”), and there will a desperate loss of the serendipity that drives Davos.
And, although I love New York (I was born in Brooklyn), the New York style is antithetical to Davos. Despite the stellar cast assembled in the mountains each year, Davos is emphatically not glitzy, not celebrity-driven, not about the media spotlight. And in Davos, mayor Bloomberg (!) would not be given a major stage.
This just in�
Klaus Schwab has issued an email to participants explaining the reasons. You’ll find it here. The additional news is Davos in New York will be shorter than usual: from Thursday to Monday, rather than Tuesday.
In a press release subsequent to Klaus’s email, Klaus says the Forum will return to Davos in 2003. He goes on to say, “Davos has been home to the Forum’s Annual Meeting for 31 years and the intimacy of the mountain setting has been conducive to solving a number of world crises in the past. But these are extraordinary times, and we feel an extraordinary response is both necessary and appropriate. So we’ll have ‘Davos in New York’ in 2002.”
View from the limousine
Martin Wolf has a sobering assessment of the inequities of today’s world. Those of us who live in the developed world, he writes, are travelling in a stretch limousine in an urban ghetto. And we’re not minded to give up our privileged position: “Naturally, the elite has no intention of giving up what it has. Which elite ever has? The domestic politics of elite countries are about obtaining still more.”
But we’re a steadily shrinking group, he points out. In 50 years, we will be only 13% of the world’s population. Martin’s conclusion? “It is necessary to contemplate the risks and challenges that lie ahead with intellectual rigour and courage, not with the wishful thinking that marked the 1990s.”
Get a grip
Today’s Financial Times has an ad from the one-time great hope of British technology, Autonomy. The copy line, in scary, bold type, runs, “One of the top five pharmaceutical companies doesn’t use Autonomy. Will it survive?”
Get off it. I wouldn’t be bothered if Autonomy told me it helps companies become more efficient or even, whatever it means, better. But to claim its product is essential for survival is laughable, and would be irresponsible if it weren’t so blatantly false.