Another Year, Another Unanswered Davos Question

image In two years, at least to me, the World Economic Forum in Davos has gone from irrelevant to insane, with a brief stop over in interesting town.  In general, I’m a cranky cynic about most things (but you already know that), but I’ve always held particular skepticism towards the World Economic Forum.  Perhaps it’s because I came up through the citizen journalism ranks during the early part of the last decade, a culture of people that tend to be hyper-critical (and peppered with the more extreme viewpoints regarding globalist organizations) of the WEF.  Perhaps it’s just because I’m a young punk at heart, and inwardly resent larger-than-life symbols of authority.

Whatever the reason, when Davos first announced in 2007 that they were opening up portions of the conference to the riff-raff of the public, I viewed it skeptically. I used about 400 words or so to talk about that sentiment, when a commenter along behind me and said it in three sentences: “Absolute insanity. It’s just a PR tool. The organizers are hoping that this offer will keep the protesters at home editing video instead of out on the streets wearing stupid masks.”

Later that year, though, I must admit I watched with some level of eagerness as Robert Scoble and Jeff Jarvis chronicled their experiences there for the world to see, hobnobbing with recognizable world leaders and tycoons of industry.

To a certain extent, they made good on their promises, and let a few of us riff-raff in the door.  A few of us had all access passes through folks like Jeff and Robert, or as close to that as we could attain.

image Now dozens of outlets employing people I’d call either friends or professional acquaintances have access to the conference – an organization that’s come a long way from the shadowy cousin (if only in our minds) of the Trilateral Commission of decades past.

The news and voices I see emerging from Davos this year barely warrant mention, though.  Not that the CEO of Slide, the CEO of Google or the CEO of Brightcove aren’t interesting fellows, but the news coming out of the Davos Forum has almost been tech vendor news. What’s the point of flying to Switzerland to learn about American companies when I can pick up the phone and ring these characters up for a phone interview, and glean the same information? It’s not as if these folks aren’t unattainable – they regularly speak to the tech press in various capacity.

The only update from Davos I’ve been witness to that’s anything approaching what I’d call useful information about the conference, but even his post misses the big question we all have for the attendees of the WEF.

What Is the WEF? Why Should They Apologize.

The WEF brings together “top business leaders, international political leaders, selected intellectuals and journalists to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world including health and the environment.”

The organization’s website proudly trumpets a more altruistic mission for the conference:

…participants resolved to rethink, redesign and rebuild the global economy to ensure principled growth and sustainability. The global recovery is fragile, and now is the moment to rethink values as we rebuild prosperity. The interrelated fights against unemployment, global poverty and climate change are not just noble struggles: they are essential for long-term recovery and avoidance of future crises. Actions taken at the Meeting will improve the state of the world: rebuilding Haiti will make the world more prosperous; vaccinating children in developing countries means making the world healthier.

That begs the question for the attendees: Should you apologize? Clearly, with the calibre of attendees this organization gets and their purported altruism, the first thing on their lips should have been a profuse apology, and soul searching on Jay Rosen’s panel suggestions:

Did anyone at Davos feel like apologizing? Why shouldn’t Davos claim its share of responsibility for the global meltdown? I was expecting sessions like, “should we go out of business?” Did that happen?

For the global financial elite, these are the shame years. Was there even a glimmer of recognition of this? Felix Salmon’s post, Looking for contrition in Davos, captures my mood. Were you looking for contrition at all? Did you find any?

image Davos was supposed to be about responsible stewardship of the global economy. News flash: There ain’t any! The Davos idea has failed. I can’t believe there weren’t smart people there who knew that.

According to Jeff, that notion was met with derision last year, and presumably not even broached this year.

The post referred to by Jay by Felix Salmon puts it pretty nicely:

Now that it’s clear that many of them were leading us off that cliff, there’s still no sign of contrition, although you can be sure that a few fingers will be pointed at various past attendees who aren’t here to defend themselves. Is anybody here seriously examining the idea that Davos was institutionally responsible, at least in part, for the economic and financial catastrophe which befell the world in 2008? I’ll be on the lookout for that over the next few days. But I suspect that the preening potentates will be far too busy giving themselves the job of rebuilding the world to stop and ask where they went wrong in building the last one, and whether they might actually owe the rest of us a large collective apology.

I think it overstates the reality – Salmon’s post was written before the event, but the reality of the event was much more mundane. We didn’t even get the touchy-feely collective back-patting from Davos this year as we have the last two. Heck, we didn’t even get the raucous and headline-grabbing anarchist riots either.

We got a few industry-related headlines and unanswered questions.