Select Page

Tuesday February 5, 6:00 pm Eastern Time Davos Slips Out Of Town Quietly By Todd Jatras

It was billed as one of the hottest tickets in the world, but the World Economic Forum and its 2,700 delegates barely registered their presence in the city of New York. The conference was moved here in a show of solidarity following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, bucking a three-decade tradition of holding the annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. ADVERTISEMENT

As the world’s business and political leaders cleared out of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on Feb. 4, most were clearly relieved that the megaprotests that marred WTO and G8 meetings in Seattle and Genoa never materialized. New York was well prepared for any such unrest, picking up the tab for 4,000 additional cops.

What was not so clear was whether the delegates, who each paid more than $20,000 to attend, or the host city got anything other than repetitious panel discussions and high-powered cocktail chatter out of the five-day affair. Sure, there was plenty of lofty talk about the captains of industry finally facing up to their social responsibilities, but hard and fast evidence of that was scarce. And for all the talk about the Forum restoring New York’s international stature in the wake of the terrorist attacks, it all turned out to be a rather ho-hum affair in a city that plays host to the world’s elite every single day.

Most of the talk was predictable and politically correct. With panel topics ranging from bioterrorism and interfaith dialogue to understanding the anti-globalization movement, it would be nearly impossible to identify any real political or economic agenda issuing forth from the meeting.

Instead attendees were left with the memory of Microsoft ChairmanBill Gates, the world’s richest man, discussing foreign aid and debt relief for less developed nations with U2 singer Bono.

And if that combination wasn’t odd enough, consider that George Carey , the archbishop of Canterbury, of all people, may have had one of the more profound insights into the state of the global economy when he remarked that Enron ‘s recent collapse raised fundamental questions about honesty and accountability within capitalism. “There’s a big question mark over capitalism today. It’s one word and it’s Enron,” he said. “And what is that challenge? Capitalism has to act within boundaries.”

At any rate, nobody here thinks things would have turned out much different had Davos stayed on its side of the pond. And the idea of the World Economic Forum returning to Switzerland next year will find few protestors in New York.

So long, Davos, and thanks for the memories.