Putting away the party hats in Davos

There has always been a certain tension between the World Economic Forum’s slogan – “Dedicated to improving the state of the world” – and the fact that many of the delegates are in Davos to network and go to parties. That is particularly awkward in a year when many of the people here have arguably done quite a lot to mess up the state of the world – by, for example, flogging toxic debt.

Davos has reacted by toning down the parties this year. The closing gala, which usually features dancing and loud music, has been re-branded as a “cultural event” – which sounds really dismal. The tasting of fine wines is not taking place. The investment banks are keeping a low profile.

I was expounding my theory that this is the party-free Davos to a colleague from The Economist, who then dismayed me by producing a vast folder of party invitations. So it appears there are lots of parties – I just haven’t been invited. My former colleague rather grandly picked out some of the B-list invitations he wouldn’t be using and tossed them my way – a German bank, an Indian newspaper, that kind of thing. Then he spotted a functionary from the Clinton Global Initiative, called him over and suggested that he invite the FT’s foreign-affairs columnist (me) to the CGI party in the Davos museum. The functionary looked at me for a moment and then said: “I’m afraid it’s a very restricted space.” Oh well, I’m going to a South African jazz party instead – and I won’t even have to gatecrash.

Davos is full of these minor social humiliations. I bumped into the historian Niall Ferguson today, who was a star of the most sought-after dinner this year – on what happened to the investment banks last September. But despite his elevated status, Ferguson is facing the ultimate ignominy – the forum have put him in a hotel room in Klosters, a long drive away from Davos. “I’m a gloomy Scot”, he remarked cheerfully, “I thrive on these sorts of setbacks.” I was unable to get into the Ferguson dinner, so instead I went to a bizarre-sounding event on “leadership lessons to be learnt from Macbeth” – conducted by Richard Olivier, son of Laurence. The main lessons that I extracted is that it is a bad idea to murder your boss – and beware of your bossy wife.

Gideon Rachman is the FT’s chief foreign affairs columnist

Davos blog 2009

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