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The Rise and Fall of Davos Man

Davos ain’t what it used to be, but that doesn’t mean the global elite is going anywhere.


By now the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos is such a stereotype—Globalist conspiracy! Hypocrites in their private jets!—that participants realize their attendance puts them on the populist watch list. That doesn’t mean, of course, that plutocrats, politicians, and policy entrepreneurs don’t wish to go. They do, in droves. And yet, the cannier ones finesse it by adopting a knowing third-level “meta” approach to their going. They are owning it

Case in point: Andrew Ross Sorkin, the impresario of “Dealbook,” the The New York Times’s multi-media revenue center. On January 14, Sorkin tweeted a picture of his airline ticket to Davos (proving that he’s not a total Gulfstream elitist) and explained, “I’m headed to Davos. I know, I know. Before you say it is a global cabal seeking profits for the elite, let me say this: Is everyone there self-interested? Yes. Emphatically, yes.” Having acknowledged the critique of WEF, Sorkin then defended it: “But…I don’t know anywhere else that you can put all of these self-interested people, representing countries, companies and nonprofits, in a room at one time and maybe, just maybe, find some common ground. That’s at least the hope. Davos is no panacea. But dialogue is better than no dialogue.” With that, Sorkin was on the plane: There’re stories to cover, and new sponsors, partners, and underwriters to cultivate. 


Without a doubt, dialogue is good. So if Davos were hosting, say, peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, there could be little objection. But what if the participants at WEF are all on the same side? What if everyone there—with the flukey exception of Argentina’s Javier Milei—was aligned with the neoliberal Great Reset-y, Covid lockdown, energy transition-ing mindset? What if Trumpy truck drivers, and Third World peasants, are unrepresented? (Even if plenty of Davosians claim to speak for them—the Third Worlders at least.)

Speaking of owning the WEF ethos, on January 17, Politico announced it was holding a party at Davos. As we know, Davos is home to plenty of parties—in which, say, Goldman Sachs invites its 1,000 closest friends from around the world. In fact, if we switch to the partisan connotation of the word, “Party of Davos” has become a pejorative meme. So what to do when you’re on defense? One strategy, of course, is to go on offense. To bump it with a trumpet

In fact, Politico was making this particular party open to the public—the uninvited unwashed could get close to the action via streaming. Yes, the masses were just a click away from seeing WEF-essence, pols and plutocrats partying together. One partier was Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister and foreign minister of Australia (and renowned Sinophile), and another was Andrew Forrest, described as a “global business leader and philanthropist.” The program further described Forrest’s special mission: He has “stepped beyond fossil fuels with green metals and green energy.” 

Those fine-spun words are worth unspooling. The hope-and-climate-change-y “beyond fossil fuels” is a main mantra at Davos (never mind that carbon fuels are surging, around the world and even in Joe Biden's America; the show must go on). And “green metals,” we can assume, includes cobalt, tungsten, and rare earths, mined in places such as the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic Republic of Congo— where protections for human rights, the environment, and labor run the gamut from scarce to non-existent. And as for “green energy,” Davos Men and Women might be slow to acknowledge that American “clean” stocks are dramatically underperforming compared to the whole of the U.S. stock market. Can Davosians devise a plan to buck them up? Perhaps the Politico party will help. 

To be sure, not everything at Davos was on message. A lèse-majesté journo asked John Kerry, the Biden administration’s point-patrician to the donor class, “What is the carbon footprint of this event?” To which Kerry answered, “That’s a stupid question.” It’s a given, of course, that Kerry would be haughty. Yet he shouldn’t have been combative—that’s not the well-lubed Davos Way. Perhaps Kerry was simply unlucky, confronting hoi polloi with no insulation. Or maybe, having lame-ducked himself, Kerry found that his phalanx of PR people were slacking off. 


Yet with the serene confidence that comes from having married a billionaire, Kerry recovered quickly. In a chummy “First Mover” interview, he pronounced that Das Green Kapital was more powerful than any mere election: “If you wind up with a different president who was opposed to climate crisis, I got news for you. No one politician anywhere in the world can undo what is happening now, the marketplace is doing this.” 

Ah yes, the marketplace, guided by green subsidies totaling $15.6 billion. That’s just in a single year, and just in the U.S. Looking ahead, green capitalists can slaver over the prospect of $276 trillion; that being the dollar total that McKinsey & Company says it will take to hit “net zero” by 2050. To which we can add: If China, India, and all the other coal-happy countries keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at their projected exponential rate, we’ll need to spend even more—and that has to be good news for Al Gore, Inc. 

So let’s give Kerry credit for overall messaging: The old Hegelian trick—identify what you hope for as teleologically inevitable—worked for not only the German philosopher, but also for his renegade epigone, Karl Marx. And for plenty of pamphleteers since, it’s been an effective formula: Deliver, with incantatory cadence, a vision of “the right side of history,” and the audience (enough of it at least) is putty in their hands. Now, however, the old leftist dogmatism has been replaced by neoliberal dogmatism. So Kerry is now spieling, Jim Cramer-style, “The trend is your friend.” This is 21st century corporatism, green in tooth and claw. And rare-earth metal. 

But we can ask: Is the WEF schtick still working? Does anyone other than a BlackRock shareholder still have confidence in this particular hegemon? It sure seems that lots of flyover folks—tuned to Milei, Tucker Carlson, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and a swelling worldwide chorus of contraries—are reaching for their revolvers whenever they hear Klaus Schwab’s name. 

As a straw in the wind, Hillsdale College, which is its own kind of multimedia empire, now offers a video on the Great Reset. One guess as to its stance. Is fear and loathing of the Great Reset a feverish paranoid fantasy? That’s a matter of opinion. But paranoiacs can start their search for evidence on the WEF website. Whatever the Great Reset is, the WEF started it. 

WEF was founded in 1971, billing itself as a blueprint for capitalistic-technocratic utopianism. Indeed, it had a good run, until the truth caught up with the legend. Verily, all things must pass. As with any self-appointed group of guardians—from the Templars to the Illuminati to the Trilateralists—the initial cachet becomes a cliche, and eventually, a dirty word. So this year, President Joe Biden will not be at Davos. Of course not. He has a re-election to think about, and he needs Michigan, not masters of the universe. 

To be sure, Davos and WEF are hardly withering away. WEF conferences are proliferating, even if they now seem indistinguishable from myriad other high-end investor conferences. And as for Davos itself, there’s always 2025, when the electoral smoke, win or lose, will likely have cleared. Joe will always be welcome, if he’s up to it, and Hunter for sure, will want to go. Many art collectors come to Davos.