What Happens in Davos Stays in Davos

Shankkar Aiyar
5 min readJan 15, 2023

The genius of the idea propagated by Klaus Schwab is essentially the scent of relevance it conveys, of being somebody. Does Davos Deliver? The optics is about making the world a better place. The opportunity is about networking amidst moolah and minds with messianic zeal.

By Shankkar Aiyar | Published: 15th January 2023 01:48 AM |

It is that time of the year when ideas, intellectuals and a large caravan of global net worth travel to the mountains, to the annual jamboree of the World Economic Forum at the ski resort town of Davos in Switzerland.

This week, the much-celebrated confluence of public purpose and private profit, will brainstorm or in WEF lingo “engage in constructive, forward-looking dialogues and help find solutions through public-private cooperation”. Doubtless it will occupy prime time media and mind space. The optics is about making the world a better place. The opportunity is about networking amidst moolah and minds with messianic zeal.

The New Indian Express | Logo of World Economic Forum

It is said talk is cheap. Not when it is Davos, if it means breathing rarefied air with billionaires, heads of state and the momentarily conscientious tinsel star. As any realtor would tell you location does matter. The fancy digs — a chalet or a penthouse apartment — could cost upwards of the annual per capita income of G7 nations.

For those willing to rough it out, just to attend sessions on moolah mantra garnished with celeb spice, the cost for a bed under a decent roof would be roughly $1200 or the annual per capita income of more than 30 countries. The attendees will stimulate the economy of Davos in the hope of stimulating their minds with ideas and intellectuals.

Of course being at GPS 46.802128 9.833477 is not mandatory but presence is enabled by a seductive illusion, of hope and the promise of migrating in status — from wannabe to would be. Over the next four days more than 1500 leaders — the list of attendees is 79 pages long — including over 50 heads of state, 600 CEOs will mark their presence at WEF.

The Indian delegation besides the billionaire’s brigade includes four union ministers and three chief ministers. The US delegation has six members of the Biden Administration including climate envoy John Kerry and a dozen elected members from both houses.

The genius of the idea propagated by Klaus Schwab is essentially the scent of relevance it conveys, the currency of being somebody, that fleeting moment of immediacy and rare intimacy in thoughts. The idea which has persistently persuaded the rich and the famous, heads of state and global corporations is that being visible at WEF every January matters!

The banner this year is ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World’. The title may sound familiar to regulars. The 2018 banner read “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”. That year the WEF invited Donald Trump, then US President. The New York Times headline read ‘Fox in the Globalist Henhouse?’

The Davos men witnessed, up close and personal, the man whose campaign raged against the “party of Davos”, the globalizers, as ideological enemies. Trump declared “I am here today to represent the interests of the American People” and spoke about America First.

The call to action in 2015 similarly was about altered geopolitics. The title was ‘The New Global Context’. It was inspired by an anniversary — in 1815 the world gathered at the Vienna Congress in search of peace and a new world order. On January 16, 2015, in what could be an enduring comment, the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier defined 2015 as “a world in search of a new order.” In 2023 déjà vu must be experiencing déjà vu. Not very different you could say but yet differentiated.

Consider the art of making a distinction without differing. In 1973 the WEF issued what it called the Davos Manifesto. The crux read: “The purpose of professional management is to serve clients, shareholders, workers and employees, as well as societies, and to harmonize the different interests of the stakeholders.”

In 2020 Schwab updated the manifesto. It now reads: “The purpose of a company is to engage all its stakeholders in shared and sustained value creation. In creating such value, a company serves not only its shareholders, but all its stakeholders — employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and society at large.” The new manifesto, in its full explanatory version, is 139 words longer.

The essence of WEF is its ability to discern popular pulse. There is no dearth of issues confronting the world and as always the 2023 agenda is riveted by concerns. For instance ‘Addressing the Current Energy and Food Crises in the context of a New System for Energy, Climate and Nature’; ‘Addressing the Current Geopolitical Risks in the context of a New System for Dialogue and Cooperation in a Multipolar World’ and if you so choose, ‘Addressing the Current High Inflation, Low Growth, High Debt Economy in the context of a New System for Investment, Trade and Infrastructure’.

Does Davos make a difference? While it may seem that the WEF meetings create quantum change in how the world engages with issues, in reality it is at best a venue which brings issues and people face to face. Sure, there have been offshoots which have got propagated and nurtured. The reality is that public- private cooperation is governed by the statute of limitations in a world of nation states informed and influenced by domestic politics.

Catalysis of collective consciousness does not necessarily alter collective conscience. What happens in Davos verily stays in Davos.

Shankkar Aiyar, political economy analyst, is author of ‘Accidental India’, ‘Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution’ and ‘The Gated Republic –India’s Public Policy Failures and Private Solutions’. You can email him at shankkar.aiyar@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @ShankkarAiyar. His previous columns can be found here. This column was first published here.

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Shankkar Aiyar

Journalist-Analyst. Author of ‘Accidental India, ‘Áadhaar: A Biometric History’ and ‘The Gated Republic’. Studying how politics rules the economics of people!