Some anti-globalization protestors view Klaus Schwab, the seventy-two-year-old German economist who set up Davos forty years ago and still runs it, as the devil incarnate. I prefer to view him as a savvy nightclub promoter or restaurateur, a German version of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, or Keith and Brian McNally.Back in the nineteen-eighties, when I first moved to New York, people used to queue around the block to get into the McNallys’ latest hotspot, such as Odeon, Canal Bar, or 150 Wooster. But unless you knew the private reservation line or worked on Page Six you had little chance of securing a table.
Davos works on the same principle. The actual sessions are largely devoid of meaning, as evidenced by the recent themes of the conference. 2011: “Shared Norms for the New Reality.” 2010: “Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild.” 2008: “The Power of Collaborative Innovation.” I defy anybody to find any meaning in this corporate-speak gobbledygook. The point of Davos is not to learn or think or do deals, but simply to be there—and to be seen to be there. If the shareholders are picking up the tab, that’s all the better.